Presented by Hub Theatre Company of Boston
Written by Michael Elyanow
Directed by Kelly Smith
Review by Gillian Daniels
(Boston, MA) Robyn (the confident, hilarious Amie Lytle) has been acting unpredictably since her divorce, alienating her friends of twenty-seven years, the neurotic Trudy (warmly portrayed by Lauren Elias) and sensible Hannah (Christine Dickinson, who delivers a powerful performance). Their friendship is tested as each character redraws their personal boundaries. The actresses hand in fantastic performances, but Robyn is Happy shifts from human melodrama to whacky unreality without pumping the breaks. My problem is largely with finding in what level reality the story is set.
Initially, this is a play about long-term, crumbling friendships. Their childhoods are each revealed to be hard ones, uniting them in a powerful bond. Of course they’re invested in each other. But when does telling off a friend stop being about said friend and become about the goals and desires you want to impose on their life? This level of the show deeply resonated with me. It felt sad, funny, and very true, even when other aspects of the plot didn’t work.
The play poses a troubling question about a woman who, after a few weeks of drunken behavior, (SPOILER) has sex with a man who’s developmentally disabled. Repeatedly. Hannah rightly calls it nonconsensual and monstrous but the show seems more hesitant to draw such a line.
All cards on the table, my own brother is autistic. This play hit a personal spot for me. According to the JPDasCentre, between 15,000 and 19,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities experience rape each year in the U.S. A paper published in 1995 from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service suggests more than 90% of people with intellectual disabilities will experience some form of sexual abuse at some time in their lives.
The fact playwright Michael Elyanow treats neurotypical Robyn’s indiscretions so gently was troubling, to say the least. I grant that sexuality and someone who’s developmentally disabled is a conversation by itself and can certainly make for a compelling drama, but the show wields its ethics bizarrely. Robyn’s indiscretions are compared to Trudy’s much more consensual journey of self-discovery in a choice that I found completely bonkers. If the show was set in a different version of reality, I would have appreciated more indicators. (End of spoilers.)
When the play is about friendships crumbling, it’s luminous. However right Hannah is when it comes to Robyn’s decisions, trying to keep her from ever making a mistake is obsessive. When Trudy starts making new choices for herself, Hannah’s kneejerk reaction is to control this, too.
But without giving anything else away, the climactic scene Frankenstein’s detailed character studies couched in some sort of realism with the far kookier ending of a completely different play. The dramatic whiplash is palpable.
Robyn is Happy is fascinating to watch, however uneven. Set designer Darren Cornell accomplishes an impressive stage, bending design perfectly to story. We get a peak inside each apartment of our three heroines, revealing new layers of personality and insight into their lives. This same level of insight and detail would have been appreciated in the plot, too.
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.
Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD