Reviewed by Judd Hollander
When one continually projects a sunny disposition, no matter the circumstances, it’s possible the person in question is trying to hide some deep personal pain. Such is the situation one character faces in the world premiere of Jesse Eisenberg’s ironically named Happy Talk. The play being presented Off-Broadway by The New Group at the
. Pershing Square Signature Center
At first glance,
L-R: Marin Ireland and Susan Sarandon in Jesse Eisenberg’s “Happy Talk,” in a world premiere production from The New Group, directed by Scott Elliott, at The Pershing Square Signature Center. PHOTO CREDIT: Monique Carboni. for more, www.thenewgroup.org
When Ljuba mentions her constant worry of being discovered by the authorities,
comes up with the idea of marrying her off
to Ronny (Nico Santos), one of the actors in the South Pacific company.
This despite the fact Ronny is already in a committed relationship, one he has
no desire to terminate. However, Ronny and his partner are not in the best
financial straits; and when learning he will receive $15,000 for entering into
the marriage, said money coming from what Ljuba has saved over the years for
this express purpose, he agrees to the plan. Lorraine
While things quickly begin to feel like a television sitcom - one can almost hear the canned laughter at points – it soon becomes obvious what we are seeing is a case study of someone’s world falling apart.
desperately trying to maintain an air of
happiness and certainty, even as key elements in her life begin to
It also soon becomes apparent that
is quite well-versed in the art of denial. She continually putting
up a happy front so she does not have to face other, more serious realities.
Including certain medical issues concerning those closest to her. Coupled with
this is the fear she has of being abandoned and left alone. An issue which
further manifests itself when she realizes Ljuba’s upcoming marriage could
result in her getting a green card, and thus no longer in need of Lorraine 's protection. Lorraine
Especially interesting are the events set in motion by
and Bill’s daughter, Jenny (Tedra Millan).
A confrontational sort, she has totally rejected her mother’s sedate,
middle-class world. The irony being that Jenny’s various acts of defiance may
prove to be just as hurtful to others as her mom’s behavior has been to her. Lorraine
Eisenberg has crafted a story with a number of possibilities, but misses several key points which would have made everything come together. Such as a fuller exploration of the relationships between
and her various family members. Yet despite this weakness, one still
can connect with Lorraine and what she is feeling. That is, until the final scene where the
playwright takes things in a completely new direction. One which makes no sense
in relation to what has come before. Lorraine
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to surprise the audience with a last minute reveal. But after closing the previous scene with a deeply emotional moment - and an indication of where things are going – by changing gears so abruptly, the entire play falls flat. The final scene also giving the impression of being tacked on as an afterthought. In addition, the last sequence is missing several important points when it comes to characterization and plot. Ones which, if worked into the story earlier, might have made the ending make sense.
Sarandon does an excellent job as she takes
from annoying to sympathetic to something much darker. Oreskes is quite
good as Bill, a character who says volumes with very few words; yet in the end
is able to perfectly get any across any point he needs to make. Marin does well
as Ljuba, a woman looking to start a new life, although her trust in the wrong
person may prove her undoing. Millan is fine in what amounts to an
extended cameo as Jenny. Her scenes with Lorraine showing neither woman really listening to
what the other has to say. Lorraine unfortunately, is saddled with a role which never rises above parody.
His scenes designed to be light and cute, rather than anything deeper. Also,
his habit of joining Santos in quoting lines and singing bits of song from South Pacific becomes
tiresome very quickly. Lorraine
The direction by Scott Elliott is uneven. His efforts working better in the dramatic moments, but floundering whenever he tries to bring to life any of the comedic situations in the script. Though ironically, his sharpness in staging the ending only serves to call attention to its failure in respect to the overall narrative of the piece. The scenic design by Derek McLane nicely calls to mind the suburban setting that the play imagines.
Ultimately, Happy Talk feels either like a play rushed into production too soon, or one labored on too long with someone on the creative team not knowing when to stop.
(Ljuba), Tedra Millan (Jenny), Daniel
Oreskes (Bill), Nico Santos (Ronny), Susan Sarandon ( Ireland ). Lorraine
By Jesse Eisenberg
Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen
Fight Direction: UnkleDave’s Fight-House
Hair, Wig & Makeup Design: Leah J. Loukas
Production Supervisor: Five Ohm Productions
Production Stage Manager: Valerie A. Peterson
Casting: Judy Henderson,
Public Relations: Bridget Klapinski
Directed by Scott Elliott
Presented by The New Group at The
Square Signature Center
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or www.TheNewGroup.com
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermissions
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermissions