Chicago Theater Review: REASONS TO BE HAPPY (Profiles Theatre)

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by Barnaby Hughes on August 29, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

REASONS TO BE CRITICAL

Neil LaBute seems to have a penchant for ironic titles. His 2002 play The Mercy Seat was anything but merciful; LaBute described it as a “kind of emotional terrorism.” His newest play, Reasons to Be Happy (2013), concerns two pairs of best friends who are both sleeping with each other’s exes. It’s complicated, it’s ugly, and it’s anything but happy. As such, it’s hard to like the play, but it’s still a fairly Sarah Loveland and Eric Burgher in Profile Theatre’s production of Neil LaBute’s REASONS TO BE HAPPY.compelling piece of drama. In this Midwest premiere production, Profiles Theatre gives audiences a few reasons to be happy.

Artistic Director Darrell W. Cox has done an excellent job putting the cast and show together: Shaun Renfro’s set, Claire Chrzan’s lights, Raquel Adorno’s character-driven costumes, and Jeffrey Levin’s sound and original music are all well-designed and -executed. All four actors give energetic and forceful performances.

Unfortunately, LaBute’s writing doesn’t really provide any of them with the opportunity to showcase the more subdued and subtle end of the emotional spectrum. Eric Burgher as the spineless Greg and Dennis Bisto as the always angry Kent almost succeed in imbuing their characters with enough humanity to make them likeable, despite their despicable behavior.

Eric Burgher and Domenica Cameron-Scorsese in Profile Theatre’s production of Neil LaBute’s REASONS TO BE HAPPY.

Domenica Cameron-Scorsese as Steph shows perhaps the most dynamic range, from angry bitch to apologetic let’s-try-this-again to pushy boyfriend poacher and woman scorned. Her character is a bewildering bundle of contradictions, asking Greg something one minute, then rejecting it (when he offers) the next. Sarah Loveland as single mother Carly is easily the most sympathetic character and the one with the most integrity, though her choice in men is questionable.

Domenica Cameron-Scorsese and Sarah Loveland in Profile Theatre’s production of Neil LaBute’s REASONS TO BE HAPPY.

Reasons to Be Happy showcases LaBute’s talent for limpid and colorful verbal exchanges. In terms of portraying the often fraught relationship dynamics of his characters, his dialogue succeeds brilliantly. In terms of capturing the working class sensibilities of three of the four characters, his dialogue is much less believable.

Domenica Cameron-Scorsese and Eric Burgher in Profile Theatre’s production of Neil LaBute’s REASONS TO BE HAPPY.The primary reason to be unhappy with this play is LaBute’s cliché-driven plot. An excellent example is the tense moment when Greg is about to reveal to Carly that he’s getting back together with Steph, but Carly springs on him her own bombshell, putting Greg in a proverbial pickle. Most egregious, however, is the trite and stereotypical argument between Greg and Kent about books and reading because, of course, working class men hate books; they’d rather watch football!

Having written about Greg, Steph, Kent, and Carly in his 2008 play Reasons to Be Pretty, LaBute already has plans to continue their story in the final installment of his trilogy. Will he explore his characters’ economic aspirations in Reasons to Be Rich? Or perhaps the ironically titled Reasons to Be Faithful?

photos by Michael Brosilow

Reasons to Be Happy
Profiles Theatre
The Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway
Thurs and Fri at 8; Sat at 5 & 8; Sun at 7
scheduled to end on October 12, 2014
for tickets, call (773) 549-1815 or visit www.profilestheatre.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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