Theater review: Go on, get ‘Happy’

 

Jenna Fischer stretches her acting chops in live theater. Credit: Joan Marcus
Jenna Fischer stretches her acting chops in live theater.
Credit: Joan Marcus

Does TV’s Jenna Fischer have the chops for off-Broadway? She does, in spades. She’s as comfortable onstage at the Lucille Lortel as she was behind the reception desk on “The Office.” In “Reasons to Be Happy,” playwright/director Neil LaBute gives her a chance to stretch as Steph, a hair stylist who doesn’t hesitate to use the nearest male as a punching bag when the mood strikes.

But don’t think Fischer stands out – the rest of the cast is right there with her. The four-member ensemble, which also includes Josh Hamilton, Leslie Bibb and Fred Weller, is tight. And LaBute has given each a unique voice that sets them apart, yet brings them together, propelling the play through an obstacle course of humor and frayed feelings.

At center is Greg (Hamilton), Steph’s ex, a poster child for vacillation. Steph wants him back, but he’s gotten pretty, level-headed Carly (Bibb) pregnant. He’s got to make a choice, and choosing’s not his thing. So he bobs and weaves and stammers and evades and tries, with limited success, to stay out of the line of fire. Meanwhile, Kent (Weller), Carly’s ex and Greg’s kinda-sorta bud, wishes he could get back with Carly. He has the least stage time but the most laughs as a dumbed-down jock whose anger management issues make Steph seem like a pussycat.

“Reasons to Be Happy” is a sequel to LaBute’s “Reasons to Be Pretty” from 2009, but each play stands on its own. With its vivid characters and LaBute’s uncanny ear for dialogue, it’s a good reason … no, we’re not going to say it.

If you go

‘Reasons to Be Happy’
Through June 23
Lucille Lortel Theatre,
121 Christopher Street.
$69-$89, www.mcctheater.org


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