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Open: 03/30/16- Close: 04/16/16 Happily After Ever
Reviewed for By: Heather Violanti
Erik Carter ©2023  Jeffrey Brian Adams and Molly-Ann Nordin

An ideal couple’s “happily ever after” is thrown into question when their baby is born with both male and female genitalia in the surreal comedy Happily After Ever by playwright Laura Zlatos, now playing at 59E59 Theaters.

Zlatos’ clever, piquant play satirizes the tropes of sitcoms and romantic comedy:  the perfect couple who meet cute during an awkward situation (in this case, Janet and Darren fall in love while waiting for the bus), the endearingly awkward misunderstandings that bring them closer as they start a new life together, their friendship with their wacky but lovable neighbors, their unflappable assurance that everything must end happily ever after. Zlatos pushes the tropes to their most surreal extremes – Darren’s been waiting for that bus for four years; Janet says her greatest fear is getting to the other side of the street; and their “lovable” neighbors Jerry and Dharma secretly hate each other and don’t really like Janet or Darren, either. 

Erik Carter ©2023  Molly-Ann Nordin and Jeffrey Brian Adams

In a humorous repeated device, characters often smilingly speak aloud subtext that exposes the storms raging beneath all the sitcom-y sunshine.  When Dharma finds out that Janet is pregnant, for example, she coos the following: “And it’s not that I’m jealous that you’re having a baby before me and that I’m probably infertile, but if I were any happier for you I think I’d have to kill you.”

Strangely, the play’s main “event” – the upheaval in Janet and Darren’s seemingly perfect lives after they give birth to a baby that is both male and female – happens about halfway through the play. Too much time is spent setting up the revelation that Janet and Darren’s existence doesn’t fit the sitcom-perfect mold to which they desperately aspire. 

Still, the play possesses provocative charm, and its power grows after the birth.  The baby makes Janet and Darren question absolutes that have underscored their aspirational existence, especially those regarding gender.  Prior to the birth, they saw gender as binary (imagining that if they had a boy, he’d play football, or if they had a girl, she’d take ballet class).  Now, with a baby that is “intersex,” their limited view of gender – and the world in general ---- gradually opens up –- the baby is not an “either/or” but “both.” Janet, especially, begins to realize that being perfect might not be all it’s cracked up to be.  

Zlatos has an MFA in Playwriting and a BFA in Dramatic Writing and Gender and Sexuality Studies. Her in-depth knowledge of gender informs the writing of Happily After Ever. She and director Sherri Eden Barber constantly subvert long-held gender norms. Dharma, Janet’s ultra-feminine, mean-girl neighbor, is played by a man in drag, for example, while the sweet ingénue Janet lifts the romantic hero, Darren, over the threshold of their new home when he is too tired to carry her.

The cast tackle their roles with aplomb.  As the central couple, Molly-Ann Nordin (Janet) and Jeffrey Brian Adams (Darren) strike the right balance between sincerity and satire.  Brennan Lowery (Jerry) and Marlon Meikle (Dharma) are endearingly surreal as the “wacky” neighbors, and the deadpan Jim Anderson nearly steals the show as Tommy/Tanya, the surprisingly wise dog that Dharma and Jerry adopt.

Director Sherri Eden Barber and set designer Rebecca Lord-Surratt make the most of the cramped Theater C, which they make feel like a limitless world of suburban astro-turf through clever design and smart scene changes.  Dramaturg Stephen Christensen provides an insightful essay on gender in the program, which examines the play’s complex themes in detail.

In all, Happily After Ever is both a piquant and powerful evening of theatre.    

59E59 Theaters : 59 East 59th Street