By David Walters
“Happiness is not something you can chase. You let it find you. And if and when it does, never look back, never look forward, just stay in the moment and pray it stays a while.”
I wish Chasing Happy would have listened to itself. It wants desperately (as do most of the characters want desperately) and strives to be something that it isn’t. It desperately wants to mean something beyond the basic setup boy meets boy, boy does boy, boy looses boy, boy finds another boy. It desperately wants to be a play that makes you think and gives you hope. It desperately wants. Sometimes when you want something so much you end up pushing it away out of desperation.
The strongest part of the story is a B-story that gets slipped in near the end. In the middle of a long committed relationship, at a gay pride event that he was unwittingly dragged to, one partner is killed by a random bullet. The other partner, in his guilt of his part in their even being at the event, concocts an unpublished treatise on developing self-esteem, and building on the shooting tragedy, passes it off as if it was his dead lover’s work. The book gets published and is a national bestseller becoming a talisman for the emerging queer community. He then spends years traveling and discussing his dead lover’s work and the depth of the love they had together, although it was he who had originally written it and the character he created of his dead lover and their relationship was all fabricated.
The psychology behind that guilt, the ensuing motivation to write the book, and the years of hiding that secret only leading to more compounded guilt was the most interesting aspect of this play, but it is only a small secret reveal near the end that bonds two of the characters in a private moment.
The play is full of double standards. Despite it’s long and heralded popularity, the characters dismiss the writing in the book as mediocre, yet we are subjected to several scenes of the secret writer vehemently reading chapters of his “dead lover’s” book at a bookstore and coercing the audience to chant self-help affirmation mantras, “Let me become who I truly am.”
I will have to say though, that its heart is in the right place. You can tell that it was created with love, it was worked on with love, and it’s presented with love, and strives to espouse that feeling to the audience. It’s just too sugary and sappy to give any real sustenance.
Chasing Happy by Michel Wallerstein. Directed by Pulse Theatre co-founder Alexa Kelly. The limited engagement will play through November 11, at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, NYC). Tickets are now on sale at TheatreRow.org or by calling the box office, 212-714-2442 ext. 45.
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours, 10 minutes (including one intermission).
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.