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The Unhappiness Plays (Fringe Festival 2011)

by Stephen Tortora-Lee on August 16, 2011

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Negative Space Sometimes Shows Us The Way Out

Sadness is a universal and necessary part of the human condition, whether you experience it from losing a job, a loved one or just find yourself at end of your rope.  But is “unhappiness” different than “sadness”?   Can lives be ruined when they are unhappy much more than when they simply have a neutral lack of happiness? Playwright Greg Kotis (who wrote the book for Urinetown as well this year’s Fringe runaway hit, the already sold-out Yeast Nation) examines these themes in 9 short dark comedies called  The Unhappiness Plays.

While on the surface many of these plays seem to be merely absurdest comedies if you look deeper into the core of these plays you’ll recognize yourself in the parodies of humanity playing out on stage.  Each actor does a great job portraying several characters and exploring feelings of conflict, solidarity, dismay, loathing, joy at causing pain, or sadness in something being lost forever.  Director Bob Fisher had his work cut out for him and he delivered marvelously – each play was consistent and distinct from the other plays yet held to the common theme.

The musical interludes by Michelle Edwards set the mood in just the right way during the interludes and transitions.

Sandwich Town begins the plays with the question: Is a sandwich a sandwich if its missing one of its ingredients? The great acting by Steve Wilcox, Richard Briggs and Shawna Franks helps us believe the insanity of this rapidly building play enough so that we can all feel the dismay that permeates the deli after the dissatisfied customer leaves.  Later in Ice Cream Man the clerk and the customer meet again, and instead of hurting him the  Ice Cream Man repays the customer with helpful insight and compassion.

In Asunder we see the vampiric hunger an identity thief  can feel and  how his faithful assistant does his bidding for herself as well.  After all everyone needs to learn a trade . . .

Sandal Man transforms class struggle into a farce so we can actually see how unfair the real thing is.  This short play in 4 acts, takes less than 5 minutes and shows a man’s whole life as he changes from a passive-aggressive counter-cultural, to one of the oppressed, to a political prisoner, to a “free man”.

Upsetting investigates when people say mean things without thinking of the implications.

And It Never Ends investigates health-care from the different aspects of doctor and patient in a never-ending purgatory of a waiting room.  But in looking at all the other options for Hell, “It’s better than the alternative”.

A Bit of Advice is a metaphor for what happens when you’re left alone and don’t know how to be with other people any more.

Hair Play is the finale play of this series and deals with some of the deepest “un”-happiness.  It begins with a son coming home from a haircut overwhelmed with anguish.  He approaches his mother and he tells of his horrible haircut.  His mother has a bright red hairdo and seems to agree his haircut is horrible and tells him it has scarred him for life.

Scarred her for life even!  Because it has so terribly permanently disfigured her son.  Mother gets son so riled up at how much the hairstylist had wronged them she convinces him to cut out the barber’s heart with her scissors and bring her back the heart for her to eat.  The thing is -   he has a perfectly normal haircut.

After a tangle with the police we find this has all been an elaborate plot to to get the son to kill the hairdresser in revenge for “bad” haircut many years before given to Mom  … In short it was all just a setup. What we see in this complex scenario outlines the deepest part of this whol series of plays: all unhappiness can be seen as unreal expectations.

Wonderfully done – thoughtful, entertaining and funny, The Unhappiness Plays is bound to make an appearance in the Fringe Encore series.  Its short run is over – but it’s got a long life ahead of it.  So keep watching for this one.


The Unhappiness Plays
Space 55 Theatre Ensemble
Writer: Greg Kotis
Director: Bob Fisher

1h 10m
VENUE #10: IATI Theater

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