Every sat in a corner with your head in your hands, wishing that the powers that be could just turn back the clock, give you a do-over, so you could make all the right choices. In R.J. Colleary’s Happy Face, Sad Face, do-overs can be pretty hilarious if you aren’t aware of the choices you made in the first place. High concept meets lowbrow rowdiness with intriguing results.
Meet Jason Parks (Tom Christensen), insurance executive at the top of his game professionally, but suffering a slump in his personal life. His wife of eight years, Emily (Krizia Bajos) has cranked up her pleads to get pregnant into high gear. This is not the best to be getting into that old argument since Jason’s parents, Sonya & Tom Parks (Perry Smith, Thomas F. Evans) have made a surprise visit. The ‘Rents have designs of their own, particularly on Jason’s wallet. They are in need of help with their mortgage; if Tom would just swallow his pride and admit it.
Despite the fact that it’s late, no one is getting any sleep. The quarrelling couple are interrupted by the surprise arrival of Malcolm Summerall (Rob Locke), a cane touting client of Jason who has weathered the storm one this special night to see his insurance provider on a matter of great urgency. Without disclosing why, a sickly Summerall eventually begins wielding a gun, a last ditch effort to get Jason to acknowledge his demands.
Emily and the parents are soon pulled into the fray, but not before she gets out a 911 call, which bring one Officer Burris (Eddie Alfano) to the premises. A desperate Clementine Summerall (Sarah Agor) arrives on the scene begging her father not to kill himself. However, before the stormy night is over, Summerall has everyone in the apartment not only rooting for his death, but scheming on how to help him.
Then, in Act Two, they get to do it all again with a ton of absurdity, a truckload of sarcasm, healthy dashes of S&M paraphernalia, a barely intelligible Cuban accent and Lots of Peter Gabriel. And it works!
Director Kathleen Rubin has truly met the tremendous challenge of balance in the piece. While the text is not exactly the same, there could be a distinct disadvantage to having your audience know what is going to happen even generally. However, Rubin corrals and unleashes her cavalcade of players with precision and skill. The “monologue lighting” is genius. Colleary’s scripts pack the second act with a plethora of playful surprises, more than enough to keep the audience engage through the same basic premise.
The play does run a bit long in both acts; a fact that could be remedied with better balance between the three acting couplets. While the first act definitely packs a punch at the end, the balls-to-the-wall bawdiness of Act Two is definitely the stronger of the two. On the whole, Happy Face Sad Face is an ambitious and successful flip of the script from the typical theatre row fare. Definitely worth checking out for theatre enthusiasts looking for something other than “more of the same.”
Rob Locke’s English/Fresno Summerall and Krizia Bajos Cuban/Uber-Cuban Emily were particularly charming in the rendering of their roles – strongly in both alter egos. Well Done.
Happy Face Sad Face is running now through February 23, 2013 at:
The Elephant Lillian Theatre
6322 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038
For reservations call: 323.960.7770
Photos by Randolph Adams