Sarah Ruhl’s How to Transcend a Happy Marriage, running at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre through Nov. 21, is a tough play to summarize.
The show opens in the living room of the suburban New Jersey home of Jane and Michael (Angela Squire and Anthony Martinez). They are gathered around their coffee table with friends Georgie and Paul (Gina Alvarado and Corey Jackson) and engaged in some post-dinner conversation. The topic of their discussion turns to a temp in Jane’s office, who goes by the name Pip (Abbey Lee). Pip leads a rather interesting life in that she eats only meat that she herself hunts and slaughters and, oh, she’s in a “thruple.” Everyone is quite intrigued with Pip’s lifestyle choices and hit upon the idea of inviting her and her mates over. Paul even agrees to slaughter a duck for dinner.
Fast forward a few months, and everyone’s back in New Jersey celebrating New Year’s Eve—including Pip and the two men in her life (Nathaniel Mercier and Anderson Templeton). After the expected questions about Pip’s diet choices and the triad’s relationship are asked and answered, a karaoke machine is dragged up from the basement. Pip performs a particularly provocative version of “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain” and an orgy ensues, only to be broken up by the arrival of Jane and Michael’s teenage daughter (Jewel Ramos).
Then things get weird.
The second act deals with the ramifications of the characters’ choices in the first, as well as the transmogrification of one of them into an egg-laying bird. So ends the synopsis.
Director Sandra Ish has a strong, diverse ensemble at work here, led by Alvarado and Squire as women whose interest in Pip’s life goes beyond the prurient. Jackson shows a nice flair for comedy, and Lee gives quite a physical performance as the deer-hunting, pole-dancing, erotic folk tale-singing Pip.
Playwright Ruhl is known for her use of magical realism, but the addition of a fantastical element here works against a really interesting and funny look at human sexuality and the nature of monogamous relationships. The laughs come fast and furious in the first act but drop off precipitously in the second.
How to Transcend a Happy Marriage by no means lays an egg, but her soufflé of laughs winds up somewhat scrambled by the end.