Review Roundup: Find Out What Critics Thought of HAPPY TALK
The New Group presents Jesse Eisenberg's Happy Talk, with Tedra Millan, Daniel Oreskes, Nico Santos, Marin Ireland and Susan Sarandon, in this world premiere directed by Scott Elliott. The limited engagement will play through June 16 at The Pershing Square Signature Center (The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street).
Lorraine (Susan Sarandon) is a saint of the suburbs. On top of trying to save her dying mother, miserable husband and estranged daughter, she's starring as Bloody Mary in the Jewish Community Center production of South Pacific. When her mother's home aide, Serbian immigrant Ljuba (Marin Ireland), asks for help finding a husband, Lorraine takes on her most challenging role to date: matchmaker. In Jesse Eisenberg's hysterical and devastating play, Happy Talk, he reveals the absurd lengths people go to save themselves in the name of saving others. Scott Elliott helms this world premiere for The New Group.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Ms. Sarandon's reluctance to commit to her character's over-the-topness is understandable. Mr. Eisenberg's play and Mr. Elliott's direction never seem to settle on a cohesive tone. The production feels, at different moments, like a domestic comedy, an abrasive political satire and the kind of spooky tale of delusion that might have starred the late-career Bette Davis.
Sara Holdren, Vulture: The only good thing to be said about Jesse Eisenberg's dismal new play Happy Talk is that, at an hour and forty-five intermissionless minutes, it's a real value: It's two bad plays for the price of one. For three acts, we're stuck in a spiritless comedy with aspirations toward biting social commentary, plus the requisite maudlin attempts at meaningful human connection. Then, in Act Four, we're treated to a sudden genre bomb, a gotcha coda that takes the play off-roading into Stephen King territory. It's as if Eisenberg realized that his story of self-involvement and loneliness in the New Jersey suburbs wasn't headed much of anywhere, so he decided to turn it into Misery. Not really necessary - it's been misery to watch all along.
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: It's when the play turns darker that it becomes increasingly tiresome and unconvincing. A late-night visit from Lorraine's estranged daughter Jenny (Tedra Millan) turns horribly ugly, featuring emotions that feel unearned considering the preceding jocularity. The climactic scene is similarly problematic with its suggestion that Lorraine will resort to anything to maintain her status quo. What began as a lighthearted comedy becomes much more baroque, with Lorraine displaying a delusional quality that ironically brings to mind Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, as played by Sarandon in the miniseries Feud.
Thom Geier, The Wrap: Eisenberg's script is often funny, and he gets much mileage out of Lorraine's verbal barbs - as well as Ljuba's ability to either misdirect her insults or use her employer's vanity to her own advantage. But despite the hard work of a talented cast - Ireland in particular seems to be having a blast - director Scott Elliott's production can't overcome the one-dimensionality of the characters, or the creakiness of the plot.
Benjamin Lee, The Guardian: As the play plods along, Eisenberg flings in a last-minute twist that lands with a thud, a reversal that, while adding some weight to the material, doesn't entirely convince. It's less the twist itself but more how it plays out, awkwardly and campily, ending the show on a duff note. It's a strangely underwhelming play, stranger still given Eisenberg's intellect and Sarandon's talent, and I left with those nagging questions frustratingly unanswered.
Elysa Gardner, New York Stage Review: Under Scott Elliott"s nimble direction, Sarandon and Ireland do superb, nuanced work traversing the different roles and responsibilities suggested in Lorraine and Ljuba's friendly, fraught relationship. Though Ljuba, roughly 20 years younger at 40, remains keenly aware that Lorraine is her employer, Lorraine, in her vanity and apparent obliviousness, envisions them more as peers; at one point, she imagines building a pool outside where the pair can lounge around, "two gorgeous women sitting poolside."
Michael Sommers, New York Stage Review: Although the play suffers from a hasty, not entirely credible conclusion, the characters are vividly composed, and director Scott Elliott provides a smoothly paced production. It all unfolds in less than two hours on Derek McLane's purposefully bland setting for a living room that's apparently not been redone since the middle 1980s, which is when Lorraine would have been in the prime of life, so why would she ever consider changing it?
Jonathan Mandell, DC Theatre Scene: But Happy Talk is an ironic title for a play that winds up far closer to horror than comedy. Whatever pleasures come from the fine acting by a starry cast in this New Group production directed by Scott Elliott, Happy Talkis ultimately a sour and off-putting play.
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