By Laura Zlatos; Directed by Sherri Eden Barber
Produced by Ricochet Collective
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 4.16.16
59E59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 4.10.16
Molly-Ann Nordin and Jeffrey Brian Adams in Happily After Ever. Photo by Erik Carter.
BOTTOM LINE: This play parodies heteronormativity and the social expectations regarding gender by creating a satirically perfect couple confronted with the crisis of having an intersex baby.
One day in their generically quaint town, Janet (Molly Ann Nordin) and Darren (Jeffrey Brian Adams) meet at a bus stop on their way to work. They are both decked out in overly feminine/masculine 1950's style ensembles that communicate an extreme and dated sense of their gender roles (right down to their pink and blue umbrellas). Their casual flirting quickly escalates into full on declarations and love and a marriage proposal. Their over the top conversation, parodying the societal expectations for standard courtship, slips into a send up of old movies as Janet breaks into an imitation of the dramatic drawls of starlets past.
The two quickly get married and buy a house, with Darren working while Janet stays at home in anticipation of their future child. They spend their time having dinner parties and playing charades with their unhappily married neighbors Dharma (Marlon Meikle) and Jerry (Brennan Lowery). In a nod to the play’s exploration of gender roles, this wife is played by a man in drag whose hyper femininity becomes a parody of the cultural expectations for being a woman.
Quickly, Janet becomes pregnant and their arriving baby comes out of the sky in a basket and flurry of stork feathers. The empty cartoon satire shown by Janet and Darren hits a point of reality when the couple realizes their child is intersex; they try to ignore it and pretend that they don’t have a baby. The over-the-top emotions suddenly become more realistic and nuanced as they struggle with their desires to kill their baby and their decision to have gender assignment surgery. When Janet has a run-in with the neighbors’ dog Tommy (Jim Anderson), she shows her true conflicted feelings for once, uncovering the portrait of a parent struggling between the pressures of society and her own desire to do what she believes is best for her child.
The light, parodic tone of Happily After Ever is a surprising one to use to explore a topic like intersexuality and the struggles to find acceptance in a world that follows a strict gender binary. Stories about this topic—such as Anna Ziegler's Boy (currently playing at Theater Row) or Jeffrey Eugenidies' novel Middle Sex—are usually given a much more serious and darker tone. Starting the play off with the disconnected feeling of parody creates a way to successfully poke fun at societal gender roles, but it does not provide the best set up for exploring a serious issue fraught with serious emotion. All of the characters are so one-dimensional that it is difficult to feel any empathy for their dilemma. That said, the production still evoked plenty of laughter from me and the rest of the audience. This hypercolored day dream suburban world (with bright green grass and a bright blue sky) of cartoony gender caricatures was an ideal set up to laugh at and contemplate the heteronormative ideals we still cling to as a society. The actors also excel in their roles, augmenting their laugh inducing cluelessness with physical comedy (perhaps aided by the production’s “clown consultant” Ilan Ben-Yuda). Happily After Ever might be uneven, but it does bring to light some important issues all while inducing plenty of chuckles.
(Happily After Ever plays at 59E59 Theater, 59 East 59th Street, through April 16, 2016. The running time is 70 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:30; Wednesdays at 7:30; Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays at 8:30; Saturdays at 8:30; and Sundays at 3:30. Tickets are $18 and are available at 59e59.org or by calling 212-279-4200. For more information visit 59e59.org.)
Happily After Ever is by Laura Zlatos. Directed by Eden Barber. Fight Direction is by Alex J. Gould. Set Design is by Rebecca Lord-Surratt. Lighting Design is by Megan Dallas Estes. Sound Design is by Mark Van Hare. Stage Manager is Ryan Ostendorf.
The cast is Molly-Ann Nordin, Jeffrey Brian Adams, Brennan Lowery, and Marlon Meikle.