You could call All Our Happy Days Are Stupid an adolescent play — in the best sense. Two of the protagonists are self-possessed twelve-year-old schoolmates. When one of them disappears in Paris during a family vacation, both of their mothers take off too, heading to Cannes in search of good times and greater fulfillment. Playwright Sheila Heti’s dialogue cultivates a tentative millennial humor and stays playfully faux-naive, while director Jordan Tannahill’s staging, with playful cutouts of objects like the Eiffel Tower, augments these cartoonish, inconsequential qualities.
Heti based her 2012 novel How Should a Person Be? on this script’s real-life evolution. (The premiere got delayed for a
decade — not an unprecedented plight in the theater — and McSweeney’s wound up co-producing this New York presentation.) The play moves delicately among eccentricities: A man in a panda costume appears randomly. A Prince for All Seasons shows up and throws a lavish banquet. And a Hobbled Man (Kayla Lorette) steals the show with his chewy beachcomber yarns. But a poignant undercurrent emerges too, especially from Dan Bejar’s original songs. Crooning like a clean-cut young Lou Reed, Bejar advises would-be wanderers in his soft final tune, “Don’t become the thing you hated.” In this lighthearted coming-of-age fantasia, that youthful mantra rings true, gently.