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Review: 'Reasons to Be Happy' is intense, funny

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 11, 2013 at 7:35 pm •  Published: June 11, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — Actual happiness isn't especially prevalent in Neil Labute's new play, "Reasons To Be Happy." But then, LaBute can send his plots in surprising directions, so be prepared for an avalanche of emotions to tumble out onstage.

LaBute directs his intense, funny and touching play, which is a sequel to his favorably reviewed 2008 play "reasons to be pretty." That look at an unraveling relationship also had a brief run on Broadway, receiving three 2009 Tony Award nominations, including best play.

In "Reasons To Be Happy," which opened Tuesday night at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, the prolific writer behind "Fat Pig," ''In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends & Neighbors," explores the tangled relationships and emotions between the same four characters from "reasons to be pretty." This time there's a new cast, and the characters are paired in different ways.

So after the opening scene that begins in mid-fight between Greg and Steph, it's back to the factory with the abrasively interruptive foghorn where all four formerly worked. Greg (Josh Hamilton) and his ex-girlfriend Steph (Jenna Fischer) have an explosive reunion three years after their contentious breakup. Seems Greg, now a schoolteacher has been secretly dating Steph's close friend Carly (Leslie Bibb) and although Steph is married to somebody else now, she's furious with both her friend and her ex.

Fischer is excellent at delivering Steph's profanity-laden tirades and then showing her character's vulnerability and hopefulness. Hamilton's subtle performance and air of nebbishy decency render Greg immediately sympathetic.

Although "reasons to be pretty" was about Greg learning to face the consequences of his own actions, he seems to have slid back into fence-sitting again, becoming hopelessly indecisive as he and Steph realize they still have feelings for one another.

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