The world premiere of Happy Face Sad Face, currently playing at The Elephant Lillian Theatre, is a brilliant idea very much in search of balance.
Is Life a comedy or a drama? Happy Face Sad Face via a simple concept in two acts proposes that it is both at the same time, by presenting the identical story told from polar opposite perspectives.
It is a rainy night…two distressed couples appear in turn, in their separate quarters: Jason (Tom Christiensen) and Emily Parks (Krizia Bajos) in one room, and Jason’s parents, Tom (Thomas F. Evans) and Sonya Parks (Perry Smith) in another. Emily wants a baby. Jason claims there isn’t enough money. He’s been giving her this excuse for years and she’s fed up. Tom and Sonya are losing their house. How do they confess this to their seemingly successful son, and ask for money to pay the mortgage? The house is in turmoil when suddenly there is a knock at the door. Jason’s insurance client Malcolm Summerall (Rob Locke) has come to ask for Jason’s help in killing himself so that his daughter Clementine (Sarah Agor) can benefit from his policy. Emily Parks calls the cops and the more than seedy Officer Burns (Eddie Alfano) responds on the scene and Cleme barges in to stop her dad. All hell is about to break loose however, when Mr. Summerall sweetens the deal by offering a substantial reward to the person or couple who comes up with the most air tight way to do it. What ensues is a revalatory game of Clue with an ending that certainly satisfies.
Act II, the Happy Face, on the other hand, is a completely farcical and humorous alternative tale. It is a “scream” with plenty of salaciousness and more than its fair share of guff. Only problem is, it ends up having nothing to do whatsoever with Act I.
What starts out as a comedic interchange, off-the-wall dramedy, bumped up by an inventive use of poetic line vignettes and over the top characters completely retrofit in diametrically opposed personalities, all but Ms. Bajos it seems who merely has turned up the volume as the hateful Spanish speaking unwanted wife, rolls out into a theatrical fiasco. By the end of it all, we are definitely laughing but not really sure what story this is.
Although this play gets airborne it never truly blasts off. At times it is inventive and at others, it’s pretty formula stuff. There is so much wonderful writing and it should be electrifying. Somehow, though, in Act I, emotionally nothing really, deeply, registers except through our driving lead actor Rob Locke (Summerall) who is deliciously and successfully perverse in his scheme. Mr. Locke’s Act I performance is exquisitely pulled back revealing nothing of the outcome until the bitter end. Perry Smith also outdoes herself in Act II with an outrageous execution of the now, fun loving, sadomasochistic, Mrs. Parks managing to not get lost in the “everything but the comedic kitchen soup” of the second act.
The radiant achievements in this show, bar none, are the set, lighting, and wonderfully realistic sound effects of portentous rain and thunder, at the top of the first act.
Highly creative set design, and excellent use of space are accomplished through scrims that, with intense lighting effects, reveal the various rooms around the house creating a solid first and second floor home design that gives the plausibility of room, distance and realism. Real life actually takes place here.
Overall, Happy Face Sad Face, is an audience pleaser due, in no small part, to the dedicated performances of the cast. But it does not completely fulfill its task of drawing the “half-empty/half-full” point.
Written by R.J. Colleary
Directed by Kathleen Rubin
Produced by Russell Boast
Technical Director & Lighting Designer: Matt Richter
Set Designer: Keiko Moreno
Starring: Tom Christensen, Krizia Bajos, Thomas F. Evans, Perry Smith, Rob Locke, Eddie Alfano, Sarah Danielle Agor
Photo (above) by Randolph Adams: Tom Christensen, Perry Smith, Thomas F. Evans