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Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Presents "How to Transcend a Happy Marriage"
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Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Presents "How to Transcend a Happy Marriage"

- Backstage with the Playwrights

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Lincoln Center Theater
At the Mitzi E. Newhouse
André Bishop: Producing Artistic Director
Adam Siegel, Managing Director
Hattie K. Jutagir, Exec. Dir. of Development & Planning

How to Transcend a Happy Marriage
(How to Transcend a… Web Page)
By Sarah Ruhl

Lena Hall, Brian Hutchison, David McElwee
Omar Metwally, Naian Gonzalez Norvind, Austin Smith
Marisa Tomei, Robin Weigert

Directed by Rebecca Taichman

Sets: David Zinn
Costumes: Susan Hilferty
Lighting: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound: Matt Hubbs
Original Music: Todd Almond
Stage Manager: Charles M. Turner III
Casting: Daniel Swee
Director of Marketing: Linda Mason Ross
General Press Agent: Philip Rinaldi
General Manager: Jessica Niebanck
Production Manager: Paul Smithyman

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 23, 2017

Walking into The Mitzi E. Newhouse, I wondered at the lovely living room set onstage, but then noticed a goat carcass slung down from the rafters above furniture and lighting. One might imagine characters high on some substance, about to emerge with psychic crystals and cards and voodoo sessions. The two couples who first emerge, Jane (Robin Weigert), her husband Michael (Brian Hutchison), George, short for Georgia (Marisa Tomei), and her husband Paul (Omar Metwally), are actually, by New Year’s eve, high on some substance (think brownies), and an ambiance of voodoo does actually ensue.

However, Sarah Ruhl’s new play, produced by Lincoln Center Theater, seems too philosophical and metaphorical to draw the viewer in. Jane, Michael, George, and Paul, longtime, bonded friends, hatch a plan, amidst wine and crudités, to invite Jane’s colleague at work, Diana, known as Pip (Lena Hall) for a New Year’s Eve home adventure. The adventure involves a dip into Pip’s world of polyamorous love, as the young Pip lives with two young male lovers, Freddie (David McElwee) and David (Austin Smith). The men share Pip as a “triad”, or so it seems, and much anticipation sparks the imagination of the almost middle-aged couples, looking to transcend.

Although the carcass disappears early on, it was employed as a metaphor for Pip’s practice of wilderness and farm hunting for her own meat. Pip also unhinges the long-married couples, with the help of Freddie’s brownies, as she’s soon riding Michael and Paul, after raucously singing “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”. The four, high on marijuana friends rapidly bond in their planned adventure in ways they never have, until Jane and Michael’s teen daughter, Jenna (Naian Gonzalez Norvind), arrives home early from a party that’s a bore and finds her mother naked in an orgy. Frantic conversations and a second act find Pip and George hunting for deer, before they accidentally kill a domestic dog with an arrow and land in jail. The play’s final act also includes a magical dove, its lovely white eggs, and a missing person mystery. This was all too diffuse, fragmented, and in need of editing.

Ms. Ruhl’s play has a few fascinating themes. It’s thought-provoking and at times ephemeral. But the jokey hunting scene transcended this play, as did the carcass in a literal sense. The concept and practice of polyamory was an introductory theme, abruptly halted, while the concept of hunting for one’s dinner, if the hunter is carnivorous, would be a related theme only in a more tightly woven script. Then there’s the concept of parental communication about sex with teens, thrown in after Jenna’s family’s shock encounter on New Year’s Eve. And, not to mention how mystical birds and eggs appear from nowhere. Rebecca Taichman, Director, brought out the vivid personalities of this remarkable ensemble, yet Ms. Ruhl’s play, while eclectic and provocative, was neither seamless nor scintillating.

Omar Metwally, Marisa Tomei, Lena Hall,
Austin Smith, and David McElwee
in "How to Transcend a Happy Marriage"
Courtesy of Kyle Froman

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at