10 Reasons to See "Reasons to Be Happy"

10 Reasons to See "Reasons to Be Happy"

1. Reasons to Be Happy is a play by Neil LaBute, who does double duty and also directs the world-premiere production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

2. Reasons to Be Happy is the follow-up play to LaBute's 2009 Tony Award-nominated Reasons to Be Pretty. It’s three years later, and the two couples, Greg and Steph and Kent and Carly, have moved on. Or have they?

3. It’s not necessary to have seen (or read) Reasons to Be Pretty to appreciate Reasons to Be Happy. LaBute does a great job of economically setting up the situation and characters in the new play. Reasons to Be Happy stands on its own. But there’s no doubt it’s a richer experience, if you’re familiar with the companion piece.

4. The situation: Greg and Steph have broken up. Steph has married, but still yearns for Greg. Greg has taken up with Carly, Steph’s best friend, who has divorced Kent. Kent’s angry and jealous. Greg, who reads a lot of fiction (the classics), is now a substitute teacher with a view to becoming a full-time teacher. He’s willing to give a relationship with Steph, who has no interest in literature, another go. But can he? Carly, who has a child by Kent, is pregnant by Greg. This is a world of dead-end jobs, night shifts, unwanted pregnancies and crossed wires. Not exactly the stuff of which happily-ever-afters are made. Still, the characters and situation draw us in and keep us going for two and a half hours. Happiness, if it ever comes, won’t be easily won. And there will be a lot of talk. A lot of talk. And cursing.

5. The acting is uniformly on the money.

6. Josh Hamilton is Greg, a nice guy who can’t make up his mind, wants to please everyone and ends up pleasing no one, least of all himself. Hamilton does floppy hair to perfection. But beware of typecasting: Earlier in the season, he played Katie Holmes’ nice guy (read: passive) boyfriend in Dead Accounts on Broadway.

7. Jenna Fischer is potty-mouth Steph. Wow, what a volte-face from her character, Pam Beesly, on The Office. Girl on fire.

8. Leslie Bibb is Carly, a babe wrapped in the unbecoming uniform of a security guard in a factory. She's cool and pragmatic.

9. Fred Weller is Kent, all muscle and inarticulate jock. He kicks his way around the stage. When he finally stands still and gives in to his emotions, you know this is a guy forever trapped in his limitations. He knows it, too. Ouch.

10. The ending is bittersweet (and not to be revealed here). Depressing? A bit, but in a really good way.

» Reasons to Be Happy, MCC Theater at Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., 212.352.3101. Limited engagement thru June 23.