'Pursued by Happiness,' Laughing and Cringing All the Way
Most boy-meets-girl comedies don't really explore the science that underlies the romantic chemistry between their two lead lovebirds. But since both the boy and the girl in Keith Huff's endearing new play, Pursued by Happiness, are Eli Lilly company biochemists, we do learn that according to one theory, at least, we're all neurologically hardwired to let happiness catch up with us at some point in our lives. So now that they've hit their forties, even socially awkward Frank (Mark St. Amant) and defensively aloof Julie (Avery Clyde) seem ready, finally, to overcome their inhibitions, tie the knot and settle down.
First, though, Julie insists, they have to endure meeting each other's parents. Which, it turns out, would be enough to derail any engagement.
Huff, an accomplished playwright who penned the recent Broadway star vehicle A Steady Rain and has written for AMC's Mad Men, displays a mastery of comically uncomfortable dialogue, both in the early courtship vignettes between Frank and Julie and then when they visit each other's childhood homes. Liz Herron and Tom Knickerbocker brilliantly play both pairs of parents in consecutive scenes, and Robin Larsen's direction keeps the story moving over somewhat familiar dramatic territory, aided considerably by a team of production designers including Craig Siebel, Jocelyn Hublau and Ashley Slater.
Although Pursued by Happiness doesn't break any new thematic or narrative ground (indeed we even saw the same final scene in another play last year), these four actors generate more than enough sparks to show off Huff's work in the best possible light. Because in the end, really, it's all about the chemistry.
Pursued by Happiness, a Road Theatre Company production, plays Friday and Saturday nights at 8 and Sunday afternoons at 2 through May 14 at the Lankershim Arts Center. Tickets $16.50 on goldstar.com and lastagealliance.com, $28.00 on the Road Theatre Company web site.