Fringe 2018 review: 'To Be Happy' falls between scatological sitcom and after-school special

Brandon (Blake Auburn), who has always preferred Barbie dolls to footballs, has a biting wit. Shy Jordan (Jake Teixeira) – who was born beside a keg during a 4th of July BBQ – collects his fingernail clippings like a serial killer. They are as dissimilar as brothers can be, but over the course of a sweltering summer, these 20-something siblings attempt to connect with each other while each courting potential soulmates – relationship-shy Mariand (Madison Gomez) for Jordan, and gay conversion survivor Cody (Michael Geniac) for Brandon – as they seek escape from their troubled past.

I really enjoyed Once I Laughed, the Andrew Sisters musical that playwright Donald Rupe revived for last year’s Fringe. But despite honorable intentions, his new dramedy To Be Happy falls into an uncomfortable uncanny valley between scatological sitcom and after-school special. Serious subjects such as child abuse, homophobia and suicide are raised by the script, which has a snarky spark to the dialogue, but lacks the depth to address any of the issues it invokes in more than a superficial way. Basic matters of the story’s timeline are muddled (and exacerbated some age-inappropriate casting and anachronistic 1990s references), while the plot’s 11th-hour “twist” is obviously telegraphed, robbing it of any emotional impact.

A couple members of to be happy’s cast give wonderfully natural performances – particularly Gomez, whose quirky charm compares to Zendaya, and Janine Papin as the boys’ mercurial mother. But the lead actor is constantly over-emoting like an anxious auditionee, and with multiple narrators it isn’t always even clear whose story is being told. There are clever quips and moving moments that could make for a quality show, if it had a stronger star and 15 minutes of maudlin meandering trimmed away. For now, To Be Happy’s elegiac ending tries too hard to tug on heartstrings that it doesn’t earn the right to pull.

to be happy.
Point Blank Productions, Orlando, FL
18 & Up - Strong Language
90 Minutes
Gold Venue
Wednesday, May 16, 2018 @ 6:30 PM
Saturday, May 19, 2018 @ 6:45 PM
Sunday, May 20, 2018 @ 3:30 PM
Wednesday, May 23, 2018 @ 6:30 PM
Saturday, May 26, 2018 @ 12:15 PM

Location Details

Orlando Museum of Art

2416 N. Mills Ave., Orlando Mills 50

407-896-4231

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