Dysfunctional romantic attachment is the theme that runs through The Flea Theater’s latest production, The Break-Up and The Happy Sad, directed by Sheri Kronfeld, and featuring the Flea’s resident company, The Bats. Unfortunately, neither of the two short plays that make up the evening have much interesting to say on the subject.
Tommy Smith’s under-ten-minute piece, The Break-Up, which serves as the curtain-raiser, tellis the story of a young, white male named Gary (Tom Lipinski) who demonstrates an overzealous affection for his African-American drug dealer, Spartacus (Ronald Washington). Gary’s attempts at complimenting Spartacus are layered with racial insults as he makes comments about the latter’s thick lips and predisposition to liking rap music. The sketch quickly builds to a melodramatic denouement without doing much more than delivering a few easy jokes about naïve racial attitudes.
Ken Urban’s The Happy Sad might be better titled “The Sad Sad,” as there’s not a whole lot of happiness to go around. As the play opens, Stan (Stephen O’Reilly) is being given the heave-ho by Annie (Annie Scott) who is now dating David (John Anthony Russo), but might also be into exploring lesbian possibilities with co-worker Mandy (Havilah Brewster) or with a woman named Alice (Jane Elliott), whom she meets in a steam room. Meanwhile, Stan has his own homosexual tendencies to work out with the help of Marcus (Felipe Bonilla), whose relationship with boyfriend Aaron (Pete Forester) is experiencing some turbulence.
The play is at its best when showcasing the awkwardness that results from non-reciprocated feelings, but its attempts to be clever frequently backfire. Urban and Kronfeld seem to go out of their way to give the production a hip, downtown vibe. But the full-frontal nudity seems gratuitous, and characters randomly breaking into song is often cringe inducing — although the steam room trio is, admittedly, somewhat amusing.
Unfortunately, O’Reilly and Scott deliver lackluster performances in the two most central roles. Better work is done by the charismatic Russo and the perky Forester. Brewster is terrific in her first major scene, but can’t quite land her final monologue. On the technical side, set designer John McDermott has done a fantastic job of transforming the Flea’s tiny downstairs theater into a succession of different environments including a café, a park, a living room, and a subway station. But it’s not enough to make the evening a happy occasion.