In January, an article in The New England Journal of Medicine suggested that the efficacy of many antidepressants may be greatly exaggerated. Mandy, a character in Ken Urban’s The Happy Sad, enjoys only marginal benefit from Zoloft. She suffers occasional hallucinations and also notes: “My mouth’s pretty dry, haven’t had my period for a while. But I know I’m not pregnant because, well, it’s kind of killed my sex drive, and I sometimes feel an impending sense of doom, which is sort of what the medicine’s supposed to cure. But yeah, it’s helping. I guess.”
Both Urban’s The Happy Sad and Tommy Smith’s The Break-Up, which compose an evening of one-acts at the Flea, have many of the symptoms of drama (characters, dialogue, setting), but neither piece matures into a play. Both announce a concern with big, difficult emotions—love, desire, despair—but deliver only a shoe-scuffing whimsy and occasional bursts of a cappella singing.
Smith’s brief play concerns a prepster, Gary (Tom Lipinski), who develops an amour fou for his drug dealer, Spartacus (Ronald Washington). While confessing his strange attraction, Gary manages to creep out his crush with potentially racist remarks, then regales him with a song entitled “Why Am I Plankton?” Like most mad affairs, this one ends badly and bloodily.
In contrast to Smith’s pas de deux, Urban’s play concentrates on a series of interlocked love triangles. The participants display an intriguingly fluid sexuality but little emotional range. The roundelay of breakups and make-ups and hook-ups comes to a head on a subway platform, where all the participants run into each other. Most playwrights might stage this scene as a kind of confrontation, but Urban contents himself with having his characters shout each other’s names and Mandy reciting the texts from Hallmark cards. “You’re a perfect match,” she says. “Wishing you all the best on your engagement.”
In some ways, Smith and Urban are a good match. Each writer settles on more or less tenable dramatic situations but wimps out before these circumstances can be fully explored. Each can write a fine exchange, but neither can really sustain a scene. These playwrights don’t need antidepressants, but one longs to write them prescriptions for a couple of protein shakes and a class in dramatic structure.