As you walk into the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater you can not help but notice the carcass of a skinned dead animal hanging as an omen of doom, taking space in a modern living room. Sarah Ruhl’s How to Transcend a Happy Marriage begins as the carcass is removed by Pip (Lena Hall), who “slaughters her own meat” due to ethical reasons. Her entire lifestyle is unique as she is in a “polyamorous relationship,” with two men. We hear about Pip as Jane (Robin Weigert) tells her husband Michael (Brian Hutchinson), and longtime friends George (short for Georgia, played by Marisa Tomei,) and her husband Paul (Omar Metwally), about her new temp. This intrigues the group who can’t wait to meet this daring creature.
Due to a series of over commitments the first available date to have Pip and her entourage is New Years Eve. Pip and Da-veed (Austin Smith) and Freddie (David McElwee), arrive for dinner bringing party gifts of hash brownies. Pip comes onto each of the participants as she sings a sexual rather fabulous version of “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.” What ensures or so we think is an orgy between all seven. Bodies meld into each other like a sculpture thanks to director Rebecca Taichman. The problem with this is none of this makes sense, especially when Jane and Michael’s daughter, Jenna (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) walks in on the scene.
In Act II, we are told maybe what we saw was a hallucination, except Jenna has since run away and not returned home. George, who was grossed out at the thought of hunting animals suddenly is hunting with Pip. When Pip shoots something other than a deer, the two are jailed and the supernatural and spiritual comes into play.
Marisa Tomei narrates the play as well and she is transcendent. Her luminous nature and the timber of her voice make this drama easy to watch. George is the one who knows the night will change her and not in a good way. It is George who needed to see the orgy in order to forgive her husband and her best friend for sleeping together, even if it is just one night. In the end it is George who is the better person in her ability to forgive. Omar Metwally, Brian Hutchison and Robin Weigert are believable as the friends who will always be friends despite the trauma’s that may try and tear them apart. David McElwee is convincing as the bohemian and Austin Smith as the effected intellectual, but I never believed they wanted Pip or any other woman, despite the dialogue. Also standing out was Lena Hall as the girl everyone wants. Her vocals on “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” is the highlight of the play.
Rebecca Taichman is a director to watch and I can see her winning the Tony for Indecent, this year. David Zinn’s set is appropriate.
This is a show men will like much more than women, as the questions that are being asked are men’s fantasy and a women’s nightmare.
How to Transcend a Happy Marriage: Lincoln Center Theater, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th St. Until May 7th.