Friday, October 23, 2015

What is THE HAPPY SAD at convergence continuum?

Tyson Douglas Rand, director of THE HAPPY SAD now in production at convergence-continuum, in his program notes for the show, states, “What is THE HAPPY SAD?  Well…it’s a play with music – but it’s not a musical.  It’s a funny play about romance and relationships – but it’s NOT a romantic comedy.”  He goes on to state, “It’s not a series of problems and solutions.  It is a journey of discovery.”

Rand’s explanation points out both the strengths and weaknesses of Ken Urban’s script.

The play centers on seven New York twenty-somethings in a cross-section of what they refer to as “relationships.”  That is, if relationship means bouncing from bed to bed with various people, many of whom seem in sexual confusion as to whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, or monogamous.  Or, who are in open “relationships.” Or, who are in angst-filled connections.

Annie is “going with” Stan, but she breaks up to go with David, has a fling with Alice, and comes back to Stan.  Maybe.  Stan spends a lot of time watching porn, questioning his sexuality, and has first-time male sex with Marcus who he found in a Chat Room.  Marcus and Aaron are in a “committed relationship,” but both have sex with others.  David and Annie are together, then apart, then he hooks up with someone else, has a breakdown, tries to drown himself in a fish tank, goes into rehab.  These connections go on and on…

Yes, this is a play with music:  “If You Could,” “The Greeting Card Song,” “Lost at Sea,” “Let There Be Time,” and “All My Days.”  (They can be heard and downloaded at

The question is, What purpose do the songs fulfill?  They don’t fit neatly into the flow of the play and push the plot along, or give us a clear insight into the motives of the characters.  In fact, the goings-on are interrupted by what the show’s publisher advertises as, “Magical moments when we see the inner lives of the characters.” The songs are pleasant enough, but they don’t seem to accomplish the intended goal.

There are some funny moments, some tender moments; but, more than not, these are a series of snapshot scenes of needy people.  Why should we care about them?

The play ends, much like it began, with questions about what any of the characters learned in their probes to find out “what accommodations people make to hold them together.”

The con-con director and cast have given the script a better production than it probably deserves.  The pacing is good and each actor develops a consistent characterization.  There are some highlight scenes and tender moments.

The opening segment in which Annie (Hillary Wheelock) breaks up with confused Stan (Nate Miller), who has just brought her flowers and a drawing she likes as a token of his affection, is delightful.  It gives us hope for what might be coming.

The scene in which Marcus (Ryan Edlinger) and Aaron (Jack Matuszewski) speak to each other on their cells from different rooms in their apartment creates a tender moment where their relationship seems ready to move to a new level of connectedness.

A section of chaos, when all the characters converge on one another in a NY subway stop, is nicely staged and illustrates the interlinking nature of their relationships. 

Too bad Urban didn’t write more scenes like these and clearly connect them.

Attractive Hillary Wheelock is excellent as Annie, a teacher who doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of who or what she wants from life.  Her nude sex scene with Stan is convincing.

Nate Miller, he of puppy dog eyes and gym-developed body which he shows off numerous times, is properly confused as Stan.

Ryan Edlinger nicely creates a Marcus who seems to have a rudder to steer him through life, but doesn’t appear ready to be either in a relationship with Aaron, or a relationship at all. 

Jack Matuszewski is properly insecure as Aaron.  Ellie St. Cyr nicely develops the role of Mandy, a teacher with a conflicted family history. 

Monica Zach effectively textures her portrayal as Alice, a lesbian in search of “something.”  Ryan Christopher Mayer’s character of David is weakly written, leaving the audience unclear about why he “loses it” during a stand-up comedy act.  His dive into the fish tank was properly upsetting and laugh-invoking. Mayer does the best he can with the lines he is given.

Capsule Judgement:  Con-con straddled itself with a weakly developed script that leaves the director and the actors fighting for dramatic credibility.  In spite of this, some nicely textured performances, and some creative directing renders an acceptable theatrical production.
THE HAPPY SAD runs through October 24, 2015 at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations go to or call 216-687-0074

Next up at con-con is BOB:  A LIFE IN FIVE ACTS, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s comic story of Bob, born and abandoned in a fast food restaurant restroom and how he embarks on an epic journey in search of the American Dream.  The Cleveland premiere runs November 20-December 19, 2015.