Theater review: 'Pursued by Happiness' at Lankershim Arts Center
Die-hard romantics, fasten your seat belts. In Keith Huff’s offbeat, ever-intelligent “Pursued by Happiness,” now at the Lankershim Arts Center, the course of love is strewn with all manner of emotional road kill.
In an anonymous meeting room at Eli Lilly, geeky fortysomething Frank (Mark St. Amant) hits on reserved Julie (Avery Clyde) after he’s the only one to show up for her seminar on horizontal integration.
On their first date, he impulsively pops the question, but Julie’s yes comes with conditions: They have to see how the sex goes and meet each other’s parents. Huff skips right over the sex and heads straight to the atrocity exhibition, a.k.a. two sour unions (Elizabeth Herron and Tom Knickerbocker play both sets of parents) stinking of evasions and substance abuse. Not exactly marriages to inspire quick trips to the altar.
The play’s thesis that our biology pushes us to regenerate, even when we feel trapped by the past, isn’t entirely novel. But this sliver of evolutionary hope comes to excruciating and mordantly funny life under Robin Larsen’s rigorous direction for the Road Theatre Company.
Clyde and St. Amant are admirably restrained: glum, frumpy but determined to have something genuine in their meager lives. And, boy, is it an uphill battle. On Craig Siebels’ tacky wood-paneled set, the Midwest has never looked more grim; even the vicious dinner table of “August: Osage County” seems preferable the raw ground beef snacks that Julie’s father forces on the shrinking Frank.
Huff doesn’t quite know how to end the piece, yet the play’s structural flaws somehow suit its subjects — misfits making it up as they go along. April’s the cruelest month; the perfect time to catch this quirky little love story.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
“Pursued by Happiness,” Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 14. $25. (877) 369-9112 or www.RoadTheatre.org Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Photo: Mark St. Amant and Avery Clyde in "Pursued by Happiness." Credit: Deverill Weekes.