Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
As you might expect (especially when the program lists an intimacy choreographer), things get a little out of hand. Or into hand, as it turns outand as teenage daughter Jenna (Celeste Kamiya) discovers when she comes home early from her party. For when the clock strikes twelve, the New Year's custom of a midnight kiss goes far beyond mere lip-to-lip contact.
Ruhl is eminently skilled at creating quirky yet believable characters, and her dialogue has a smooth, flowing quality to it, even if director Adam L. Sussman rushes the pace a bit, especially in the early going. But the targets of her satireP.C. thinking, the clash between desire and decorumare a little too easy to hit. And while her lines often elicited hearty laughter from the opening night crowd, like a toy arrow with a rubber tip, they fail to leave any lasting mark.
Things get even wilder in act two, when Pip takes George along on a hunting trip that goes terribly, horribly wrong, and sends the play skittering off in a strange new, almost hallucinatory direction that was vaguely hinted at in act one when David (Nick Trengove), the mathematician triad member, quoted Pythagoras: "All things changebut nothing dies."
Despite the somewhat chaotic nature of the textit's spiked with brief diversions into pop philosophy, architectural theory, and other intellectual pursuitsthe cast, for the most part, keep us grounded. Once they fall into step with Ruhl's rhythms, they help us maintain our interest in what's happening to them, even if they never truly jell as a cast. Though Fenner as Pip has an appealing, loose attitude on stage and an easy physicality, they have a tendency to lose their focus the more broadly they play Pip. As their two partners, Nick Trengrove and Louel Senores (as Freddie) bring a lovely, if somewhat arch, sensibility to their roles. Senores plays Freddie as a gentle stoner type, with soft eyes and laid-back to the point of couchlock movement.
Sadly, though, the cast has let down intimacy choreography Maya Herbsman (who did brilliant work in Aurora Theatre Company's Bull in a China Shop this season) by not always fully committing to their intimacy. At one point the characters attempt to quantify their love for each other through kisses both friendly and passionate. But merely lengthening the duration of a kiss and increasing the lip-to-lip pressure does not passion make, and the result feels far from the truth those interactions would need to communicate playwright Ruhl's intentions.
For a play about the wildness inside us all, How to Transcend a Happy Marriage lacks the organic sense of purpose it needs to be more than a satirical look at modern mores and relationships among a privileged class.
How to Transcend a Happy Marriage runs through February 9, 2020, at Custom Made Theatre Co., 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., with matinees Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets range from $31.50-$35, and are available at www.custommade.org.