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Ally Sheedy and Keith Nobbs in The Triple Happiness
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Nostalgia for the 1980s runs rampant in Brooke Berman's The Triple Happiness. Various pop songs from the period are heard between scenes, a character in the play is taking a college course that studies New Wave music -- and one of the central characters is played by none other than Brat Packer Ally Sheedy, whose career took off with such iconic films as The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire.

Sheedy portrays a 40-year-old movie star named Tessa whose unexpected arrival in the suburban New York home of Stan (Mark Blum) and Liz (Betsy Aidem) sets in motion a series of life altering changes for the couple and their college-age son, Mike (Keith Nobbs). Tessa is the catalyst, and it's unfortunate that Sheedy can't make the role come alive with the vibrancy necessary to justify the reactions of those around her; she only plays the surface of the part and is unable to deliver in the more emotional scenes. To be fair, she doesn't have much to work with: Tessa is running away from a situation that is never fully explained, and she's prone to say things like "I have really fucked up karma" and "There's a fine line between a movie star and a whore."

Despite the limitations of the writing, some of the other actors fare better. Nobbs is terrific, exuding an earnest passion that is both quirky and endearing. He has a marvelous sense of comic timing and is completely believable throughout the production, even when things start getting a bit too melodramatic. Blum also does a nice job; a scene in which Stan describes the impossibility of changing the way of the world into something more personally fulfilling is played with a quiet resignation that's oddly moving.

Aidem seems to miss a few steps in her character's journey from initial hostility and resentment towards her houseguest to a more demonstrable affection. The change seems largely unmotivated and unconvincing. Rounding out the cast are Marin Ireland as Hope, a classmate of Mike's who dreams of a better world and secretly wishes for Mike to fall in love with her, and Jesse J. Perez as a man whom Mike meets on a bus.

The set, designed by Andromache Chalfant, boasts a rather unattractive blue floor for its main playing area, and a sheer curtain covers a large entranceway at the back. The reasons for these unusual design elements are unclear, and a bit of business in which Hope mimes pressing a doorbell on the fabric's surface and then parts the curtain a few seconds later to gain entrance seems out of place.

Directed by Michael John Garcés, The Triple Happiness never quite comes together. While there are a few sharply comic moments, including a seduction scene involving Tessa and Mike, the production is slackly paced overall. Berman's script borders on the pretentious, and its exploration of family dysfunction and the possibilities for creating a new world is unoriginal. Set in 1999, just before Christmas, the play tries to tap into the millennial angst that permeated the culture at that time; but it loses focus, and whatever message Berman may have intended to send is lost.

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