Tuesday, January 28, 2020

"How to Transcend a Happy Marriage" ☼ ☼ ☼

We can quote one-liners all night from Sarah Ruhl's "How to Transcend a Happy Marriage." Especially through the end of Act One, Ruhl has us on the edge of our seats, as the sexual tension builds and we can see what is about to happen on New Year's Eve. We wish the magical realism of Act Two could match the lighting-fast action of Act One.

Pip (played by Fenner) is a free-thinking temp worker in Jane (Hillary Hesse)'s office. Pip has announced that she is polyamorous, but not only that: she slaughters her own food. She uses every part of the animal: she even repurposes the asshole.

For reasons impossible to fathom, Jane and her husband Michael (Malcolm Rodgers), and their friends George (Karen Offereins) and Paul (Matt Weimer) decide to invite Pip and her two lovers for a New Year's Eve Party. Clearly, there will be no need to purchase fireworks.

It's all very funny for awhile, if discomfiting. The two couples are as unsure of themselves as Pip, David and Freddie are oblivious. Fenner gives Pip an almost-comic-book allure, Nick Trengove as David puts a capital P in Pretentious, while Louel Senores as Freddie seems pleasant enough, if barely awake. 

"What do you do?" Michael asks Freddie.

"I try to do nothing," Freddie says.

For unexplained reasons, everyone seems infatuated with Pip, whose every slither says she would be happy to mate with the first available doorknob. Jane is attracted to Pip, Paul is attracted to Jane, George is attracted to Michael and David and Freddie are into equal opportunity. Soon, the inevitable orgy begins...except that's when Jane and Michael's teenage daughter comes home early.


"Oh, Hello Dear."

What now? Act One Ends.

That's kind of it. Act Two turns into birds and myth. A domestic pet gets killed (but not eaten).  Pip turns out to be a fraud. Michael sings a sappy song. The repurposed asshole turns out to be David. 

For us, Act Two wastes some terrific acting, especially by Karen Offereins and Hillary Hesse. The show looks really good on stage and the ensemble cast is excellent. Act One seems ready to fly but, for us, Act Two lays a bit of an egg.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division still grants "How to Transcend a Happy Marriage" THREE STARS because of the very entertaining First Act. This places it above the Mendoza line (see sidebar for explanation of ratings). Audiences seem to be loving the show and Custom Made has been able to extend the run. Perhaps they can tweak Act Two. We hope so.

"How to Transcend a Happy Marriage"
Custom Made Theatre
533 Sutter St., San Francisco
EXTENDED through Feb 16

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