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HappyHappy examines four people who have a choice to be honestly unhappy or to pretend to be happy with their lives as they know them. The choices they make are scrutinized by the highly-critical 20-something sculptor, Eva, one of the most fascinating characters you will see on stage. Show dates are August 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29 at 8 p.m. and BowsSAugust 29 at 2 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 pm. Tickets are  available from the theater’s website,www.LaboratoryTheaterFlorida.com or by calling 239.218.0481. There will also be an opening night reception, starting at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $12 for students and $25 for adults at the door. Seating is limited.

Visit this page for all the news, reviews, announcements and articles on this Summer Stock production being directed by Anne Dodd and starring Stella Ruiz as Eva.

 

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Spotlight on Happy’s Tera Nicole Miller (08-19-15)

Melinda 01On stage now through August 29 at Lab Theater in the River District is Robert Caisley’s Happy. Playing the role of Melinda is Tera Nicole Miller.

Miller has the unenviable task of portraying a woman whose equilibrium as the wife of an unambitious tenured literature professor and the mother of a severely-handicapped special needs child dangles precariously by one slender thread. Her sanity depends on convincing herself each day that life is grand and all is fine, and she repeats Coue’-inspired slogans even as her rare evening out Melinda 03Sbegins to deteriorate under the pressure of her hostess’ constant sniping and belittling.

Happy is labelled a dramedy. So imagine poor Melinda’s plight as she sits on a couch in the loft of her husband’s best friend in a frumpy robe with her hair matted to her scalp as a result of being doused by a driver who soaked her on purpose by driving through a puddle next to the sidewalk leading to Eduardo’s Manhattan loft. As if that weren’t bad enough, Eduardo’s new 20-something tart of a girlfriend is sitting right next to her, dressed in a short, skin-tight little black dress and hooker pumps. One young, Eva and Melinda 03Sthe other middle aged. One beautifully coiffed and attired, the other looking like a drowned rat.

As if the differences in their age and appearance weren’t enough to make Melinda feel old and boring, Eva seals the deal when she feigns snoring as Melinda tells the story about how she and Alfred met. Eva does this not once, not twice, but three times and pretends to be sleeping for a full minute much to Melinda’s chagrin and Eduardo’s outrage. But her humiliation is not complete until the Melinda and Alfred 02Scomely Eva opens her own robe, no doubt from Frederick’s or Victoria Secret, to show Alfred the tattoo that Eduardo’s told him so much about. I mean, really, how much can one woman endure?

The best part of Miller’s performance are the facial expressions she gives to Eva’s socially-offensive antics and her own husband’s response, or lack of response, to them. Of course, from Eva’s perspective, she savages poor Melinda’s fragile emotional state in order to ensure that she and Alfred won’t be hanging with Eduardo any more. TeraBut Melinda’s reaction to Eva disrobing in front of her and Alfred leaves little doubt that the Pollyannish Melinda will find some way to make peace with what happened and repair her strained marriage even though most other women would undoubtedly tell old Alfie to find someplace else to go after the party because the door to their house will be bolted and barred.

Tera Nicole Miller was last on stage in Sanibel in Sylvia. Lab Theater audiences will remember her from The Altruists. When she’s not on stage, Tera nonetheless spends her evenings at the theater. She regularly works box office and performs in many shows at Theatre Conspiracy. During the day, you can visit her at The Burroughs Home & Gardens.

But through the 29th, you can see Tera in Happy at Lab Theater. Please see above for remaining play dates, times and ticket information.

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Spotlight on Happy’s Eduardo, Patrick Day (08-18-15)

Eduardo 02SOn stage now through August 29 at Lab Theater in the River District is Robert Caisley’s Happy. Playing the part of Eduardo is Patrick Day.

The bulk of the dialogue and action in this quick, three-act play is between Eduardo’s new 22-year-old lover, Eva, played by the frighteningly diabolical Stella Ruiz, and his best friends of 14 years, Alfred, played by Todd Fleck, and Melinda, played by Tera Nicole Miller. In his 60s, Eduardo is Eva’s silver-haired sugar daddy, the guy who’s Eduardo and Eva 01not only going to support her and keep her in supply of Tanqueray, but the well-connected artist who’s going to use his contacts and reputation to advance her career as an avant garde sculptor of unproven and somewhat questionable talent. As such, he’s the quarry that prompts Eva to savage Alfred and Melinda, lest they try to talk reason and sense into Eduardo as she sinks her claws into Eduardo’s well-heeled derriere. And true to life, Day keeps Eduardo in the dark as to Eva’s actual Final Act 08Sintent and ulterior motive. “So what do you think of my Eva?” he keeps asking, seeking their approval if not endorsement.

Even when Alfred has had enough and finally tells Eva off, branding her an emotional terrorist, Day’s Eduardo remains to besotted that he gets mad at Alfred rather than the petulant femme fatale he’s injected into their staid and cozy relationship. No matter how ill-mannered and no matter how Happy 11Sobvious a gold digger may be, what friend stands a chance of talking sense into any man who’s ego has fallen under the spell of a beautiful, vivacious younger woman?

Day has previously appeared on the Lab Theater stage as Emperor Joseph II in Amadeus and as The Trucker in The Rimers of Eldrich. He has appeared on various stages in the area, and his favorite roles were Greg in Sylvia, George Hay in Moon over Buffalo, and David Kahn in Social Let Them Eat Pie 02SSecurity. An engineer by day (Patrick was the project manager for the Downtown Fort Myers Streetscape Project that completely rebuilt the infrastructure and topography of blocks within the River District), Day enjoys the bipolar experience of being on stage at night.

You can share vicariously in John’s bipolar experience. Happy runs through August 29. See above for remaining play dates, times and ticket information.

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Spotlight on ‘Happy’s’ Todd Fleck (08-17-15)

Happy 01SOn stage now through August 29 at Lab Theater is Robert Caisley’s Happy. Billeted as a dramedy, the play stars Stella Ruiz as barb-tongued 22-year-old provocateur Eva, her 60-something silver-maned sugar daddy, Eduardo, Eduardo’s best friend of 14 years, Alfred, and Alfred’s mousy wife, Melinda.

Todd Fleck plays Alfred, a college professor who’s determined to find the silver lining behind every Happy 03Schallenge, problem and set back until he encounters his best friend’s new lover. Played by Stella Ruiz, the dour, gin-soaked Eva takes it upon herself to force Alfred and his wife to face the emptiness of their lives of quiet desperation as the self-sacrificing parents of a severely-handicapped special needs child.

Alfred is the only character who goes through a growth arc. When the audience first meets Alfred in the entrance to Eduardo’s Manhattan loft, he comes across as a meek, mild-mannered wimp who won’t even stand up for himself when he’s soaked by a passing motorist Alfred and Eva 01Swho intentionally drives his SUV through a nearby puddle. Fleck plays Professor Milktoast to perfection, responding sheepishly to Eva’s condescending remarks, outright insults and dismissive attitude. In fact, Fleck is so simpering that the audience is tempted to pump their fists in the air when he’s finally had enough of Eva’s barbs and deceptions and gives voice to the anger he’s repressed not only during the course of the evening, but his entire adult life. Fleck’s acting here is complex and skillfully nuanced. Although as an Final Act 10Sactor, he knows that in venting his anger and frustration against Eva and Eduardo he’s not overcoming his psychological limitations, he’s unwittingly carrying out Eva’s diabolical plan to ruin his relationship with Eduardo. But Fleck doesn’t let Alfred show any sign that he’s aware that he’s been checkmated. His Alfred remains a flathead to the very end.

Alfred 02Todd is a graduate of Indiana University and former member of The Ensemble of Artists at The Bloomington Playwrights Project in Bloomington, Indiana. He has previously played Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Marty Pascal in The House of Yes and Larry in Relatively Speaking. He has appeared in independent and feature films, and has also worked on TV shows for The Discovery Channel and The History Channel while residing in Chicago.

You can see Todd in Happy through August 29. See above for remaining play dates, times and ticket information.

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Lab Theater’s ‘Happy’ edgy and unsettling in best theatrical tradition (08-15-15)

Happy 01SOther reviews of Robert Caisley’s Happy tend to focus on the perceived thematic messages associated with the play. One reviewer states dogmatically that “Happy is undeniably an intriguing examination of modern man burying true feelings under a socially-acceptable but life-denying veneer” and the “present-day prevailing philosophy of ‘go along to get along’ as a way to keep the machinery of social interaction Happy 05Schurning smoothly.” Another takes a more superficial tack, claiming the play is really about the awkward experience of meeting your best friend’s new flame for the first time. “What if you don’t hit it off? Or what if said sweetheart actually dislikes you? Such is the conflict that develops between nice, middle-aged Alfred … and Eva … a not-so-sweet young thing who initially greets him wearing only a towel and a prickly attitude.”

Happy 07SWhile Happy does indeed touch on these themes, these reviews miss the mark. At its core, Lab Theater’s production of Happy is a sobering expose’ about a devious psychopath intent on isolating her lover from family and friends.

By way of disclaimer, director Anne Dodd is not quite on board with this assessment of Eva. “She’s a young woman who when you first read the script, you think she’s just horrible, but there’s so much Happy 13Smore going on with her,” insists Dodd. “She’s only 22 and the rest of the characters are much older than she is. The couple who come to dinner [Alfred, played by Todd Fleck, and his Pollyanna wife Melinda, played by Tera Nicole Miller] are in their 40s and Eduardo, her new boyfriend, is in his 60s. So you have to analyze where she’s coming from. She’s probably clinically depressed. But she Happy 18Salso takes a perverse pleasure in playing chess games with everybody. She likes throwing out things just to see what happens.”

Caisley hasn’t said publicly why Eva acts the way she does other than to comment obliquely that he really likes strong antagonists. But to characterize someone as a strong antagonist implies that he or she has some socially redeeming qualities. If there Eva and Melinda 01Sis some good in Caisley’s Eva, it’s not clear from the script. All the audience sees is a woman so intent on isolating her new lover from his closest and dearest friends that she is willing to destroy his relationship with them and their relationship with each other. But it’s far from a game of emotional chess or just for sport. Eva, you see, has Eva and Melinda 03Sstruck pay dirt. In Eduardo, she has found a besotted sugar daddy who will not only support her and keep her in supply of Tanqueray, he’s prepared to use his formidable finances, contacts and reputation to advance her nascent career as an avant garde sculptor with the zeal and vigor of a Medici.

Provided no one with Eduardo’s ear interferes with the influence she seeks to exercise over him.

Alfred 02And apparently the person who poses the clearest and most immediate danger to her plans is Eduardo’s friend of 14 years, Alfred. As it’s not Eva’s style to ingratiate herself to anyone, let alone a 40-something college professor, she embarks upon the age-old Machiavellian plan of divide and conquer – or in this case, separate and isolate.

And this is just how Stella Ruiz plays the role. From the instant she lays eyes on the dripping, Alfred and Eva 01Sbedraggled Alfred, standing in a puddle in the entry to Eduardo’s Manhattan loft, she begins laying the groundwork for undermining the relationship he and Eduardo have built over the past decade and a half. But she cannot begin spinning her web of lies until, like prey, Alfred is dizzy and off guard. So she sets about putting him off balance. Attired in nothing more than a bath towel, she belittles his career as a professor of literature (“sounds boring”), his looks (“I thought you’d be taller”) and his placid demeanor, even in the face of being intentionally Eva 02Ssoaked by the driver of a black SUV who’s been terrorizing everyone in the neighborhood. Then, before the seemingly unflappable Alfie can regain his composure, she drops the bomb that even his good friend Eduardo thinks he is “freakishly happy.”

Viewed from this vantage, Eva is not just some irascible creative lacking in etiquette and social graces. She’s a devious, manipulative seductress intent on destroying Alfred’s relationships with Eva 06both Eduardo and Melinda in order to cement her control of Eduardo by effectively isolating him from his friends and ersatz family.

Hopefully, you’ve never met a real-life Eva. Trust me, it’s not an experience you’ll ever forget or from which you’ll fully recover. And Stella Ruiz seems to really get this about her character. She plays her with unabashed and unapologetic honesty, refusing to give the audience any shred of Eva 10Sjustification or equivocation for what she says and does. Her performance is frighteningly believable and unforgettable. Watch as she slathers moisturizer on her shapely legs and then feigns indignation when she catches Alfred staring mouth agape at the show she’s giving him. Watch as she casts copious death stares from her shuttered eyes whenever the conversation focuses on someone else or meanders to a topic that’s not of her Happy 29Schoosing. Watch as she makes Alfred and Melinda confront all they’ve cheerfully given up in order to care for their severely disabled child. And then join her as she stands back and admires her handiwork as Eduardo, Alfred and Melinda tear each other apart.

Todd Fleck is masterful as the meek and mellow Alfred, but magnificent when he finally throws off the shackles of social propriety to confront Eva and expose the web of lies and deceit she has spun Final Act 15Sduring the course of Eduardo’s little dinner party. In a fine piece of acting, Fleck betrays not the slightest awareness that even in so doing, he still doesn’t get what Eva’s really about. He brands her an “emotional terrorist” instead of realizing she’s intentionally making things so unpleasant that neither he nor Melinda will ever want to set foot in Eduardo’s loft again.

Eva 16SPatrick Day and Tera Nicole Miller turn in equally strong performances as Eduardo and Melinda, and kudos go out to Anne Dodd for set design and to Dodd, Day, Michael Eyth, Deanna Enslin and Ken Bryant for set construction. A nod also goes to Terry Tincher for his loan of the paintings and sculpture you will see on stage.

Make no mistake. Happy is not a play that’s designed to merely entertain. It seeks to shake you up, put you on edge, and make you uncomfortably aware that there really are bad people out there. But the acting is so good, you’ll be happy you took in this play. Just be careful who you take with you to see the production. See above for remaining play dates, times and ticket information.

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Stella Ruiz stretches her stagecraft to assume the role of uber-antagonist Eva in Lab Theater’s ‘Happy’ (08-08-15)

Stella 01Robert Caisley’s Happy opens Friday, August 14 at Lab Theater. The action revolves around a 22-year-old sculptor by the name of Eva, who is played by Stella Ruiz.

When Lab Theater audiences last saw Ruiz, she was decked out in a purple tee, pink tutu and red stockings, portraying neglected and happily hallucinatory 4-year-old Lucy in Mr. Marmalade. While that role did call upon Ruiz to play doctor, her challenge in Happy is to unleash her simmering sexuality.

Stella 02“Eva is very, very sexual,” notes director Anne Dodd. “She uses her sexuality in an almost exploitive sort of way. Most 22-year-old women don’t realize the power they have, so the challenge for both her and me is to get Stella to the point where she feels comfortable enough with that aspect of the part that she’s able to lose herself and become Eva.”

Asking Ruiz to immerse herself in a role is like asking her to breathe or take nourishment. For grins and chuckles, she periodically visits Amazon to find and order scripts that look like they might be fun or challenging. “She’s so into the role that she’s constantly asking questions like ‘What would Eva read?’ and ‘What kind of music would Eva listen to?’ I love actors who work that way because I work that way as an actress myself. I like to create backstory for my character,” says Dodd.

Lucy 1Dodd has been impressed by the growth she sees in Ruiz in just the short time she’s known her. “Stella and I were in Rimers of Eldrich [at Lab Theater] and Relatively Speaking [at Theatre Conspiracy], and although our characters did not interact in these plays, I got to observe her act,” Dodd reflects. “And in just the last year, she’s grown incredibly as an actor. She’s highly intelligent and very curious, and it’s fun to work with an actor who’s that curious and aware. Stella is very aware. She always watching. You can see that in her, in the way she acts. So when I read the script, she Lucy and Bradley 3immediately popped into my mind and I’m really happy that she agreed to take on the part.”

Of course, while Stella and Eva are both smart, sassy and sensual, the comparison ends there. “Eva is probably clinically depressed, but she also takes a perverse pleasure in playing chess games with everyone,” notes Dodd. “She likes throwing out things just to see what happens.”

But it’s precisely those attributes that attract an actor like Ruiz and enables her to improve her Lucy and Marmalade 2craft at an exponential pace. In addition to finding and executing challenging roles, Ruiz has received instruction in Shakespeare, scriptwriting and stage combat at Lab Theater and has participated in Camp Florida Rep. She has also taken seven years of ballet, tap and jazz and four years of Irish step, modern, lyrical and hip hop. Musically, she has two years of classical piano and classifies herself as a mezzo-soprano. But Stella has her sights set on higher education, perhaps a degree in film or theater.

Ken and Stella 1SIn addition to Lucy in Mr. Marmalade, Ruiz’s acting credits include Amelia, Helen, Waitress 3 and Kim in Bob: A Life in Five Acts, Patsy in The Rimers of Eldrich, Desdemona in Othello, Candy Starr in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ophelia in Othello, and Belinda Cratchit and the Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol. Other notable roles include Nina and Hildy in Relatively Speaking, Katherine in Taming of the Shrew and Hecate in Macbeth (both at Gulf Shore Shakespeare Festival) and serial killer Monique HappyAvril in the 2012 indie film Redemption. Her stage management credits include Amadeus, Five Kinds of Silence, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Extremities and Because Beauty Must Be Broken Daily. She has also written two full-length plays, appeared as a guest judge at Fort Myers Film Festival’s TGIM, and is the coordinator of Lab Theater’s annual 24-Hour Playwriting Project.

Anyone who’s seen one of her past performances is waiting impatiently to see what she does with uber-antagonist Eva in Happy.

Please see above for play dates, times and ticket information.

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‘Happy’ provocatively entertaining (08-07-15)

HappyThe U.S. Constitution guarantees us life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But what does being happy really mean? Is it a device, an artifice, a self-delusion we indulge to help us navigate lives denoted by slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Or is it more an attitude, a choice we make, whether unconsciously or with deliberation Anne Dodd 01and forethought. It’s weighty questions like these that will be front and center on Friday, August 4 when Robert Caisley’s Happy opens at the Laboratory Theater of Florida.

While this play promises to be unsettling and provocative in the best tradition of community theater, it will first and foremost be rivetingly entertaining. “You are going to see four actors who are really creating a believable evening,” predicts director Anne Dodd. “It’s a fairly new play that hasn’t been performed much, so my actors are Eduardo 02Spretty excited about that.” They understand that they have the unique opportunity to place their imprint on future productions for years to come, which is a pretty rare phenomenon when it comes to local theater, which tends to gravitate to classics written decades ago and performed for audiences hundreds, if not thousands of times before.

With nothing to taint or influence their portrayal of the characters in the show, it’s been incumbent on Dodd and the cast to flesh out who their Let Them Eat Pie 02Scharacters are and how they should act both on stage and behind the scenes. “This is a collaborative process,” says Dodd. “The cast and I come to that first rehearsal with our own ideas of who these characters are and how they would interact with each other. But then we figure it out and discover what works best together.”

Dodd cherishes actors who have their own ideas and a wealth of their own experiences. “It’s mining for gold to uncover what works for everybody and ultimately best serves the play,” Dodd effuses. “That’s why I love theater. You’re creating something from nothing, from Eva and Melinda 07Swords on a page, making it real, making it believable.”

But don’t misunderstand. Dodd and the actors are not ad libbing. “First and foremost, I’m a word person,” Dodd hastens to add. “I honor the text. The play is all about what’s written, and if the play is well written, everything you need to know about the characters should be in the script.” And this play is exceedingly well-written and cunningly crafted. It’s replete with scenes in which the Melinda 03Scharacters say one thing, but mean something entirely different.

“I just love to dig into that kind of script,” Dodd admits. “There’s a lot of trying to figure out what’s going on here. The play starts out one way and ends completely different from what you expect. You think you’re witnessing the start of a nice little dinner party, but it’s really a psychodrama.”

But the dialogue is not suffocating or pretensious. There’s actually a good deal of humor built into the structure of Happy 24Sthe play. It has to. Humor is needed to diffuse the emotionally charged and intense interchanges between the characters. And the one who serves as a lightening rod for the action in Happy is 22-year-old Eva, who is a female version of Jon Stewart on Crossfire. Strident, irreverent, and ruthlessly honest, she is an antagonist’s antagonist. “There are going to be a lot of people in Eva 11Sthe audience who really hate her,” Dodd predicts. And it’s Eva and the other characters’ reactions to what she says and does that makes Happy so deliciously provocative.

“It’s going to lead people to think and ponder and discuss what they’ve seen, which is what all acting should do,” suspects Dodd, who expects audience members to make a beeline to one of the River District pubs following the play in order to dissect, digest and post-mordem what they’ve seen and heard. “It’s a mash of Virginia Woolf and God of Eva 14SCarnage because these characters are not the normal characters you see in a play. They’re people you could meet anywhere, any time throughout your day. That’s what makes this play so smart, so unnerving. But I like theater that makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable.”

Do you?

Happy 03SAnne Dodd studied theatre at Vanderbilt University and with Bill Hickey at HB Studio in New York City. She has acted in repertory theater throughout the United States. Locally, Anne has performed with Lab Theater, Theatre Conspiracy and Cultural Park Theatre. She was last seen in A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia at the Herb Strauss Theatre in Sanibel. Anne directed CPT’s sold-out run of The Dixie Swim Club. She will be directing Theatre Conspiracy’s upcoming season of staged readings.

See above for play dates, times and ticket information

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Lab Theater’s ‘Happy’ will having you wondering if happiness is a state you can really ever achieve (08-03-15)

Stella 01Happy takes place in Eduardo’s loft apartment, which he shares with his 20-something girlfriend, Eva, a cynical and observant sculptor in The Laboratory Theater of Florida’s August offering. Eva makes us question whether happiness is a state one can truly achieve. Do we all live “lives of quiet desperation” as Thoreau believed? Or is happiness a choice, an attitude? In Robert Caisley’s psychodrama, Happy, we ponder these questions as we witness an evening which begins as a friendly dinner and ends up in blood, sweat and tears.

Happy“Dinner-disaster dramedy on a grand scale,” writes the Miami New Times. “[Caisley] successfully engineers a transition from uncomfortable comedy of un-manners to full-blown psychodrama – doing so in a much more elegant and complex way than Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage.”

So, put on your dinner party clothes. You’re invited into Eduardo’s artsy loft for an evening of social sabotage! See above for dates, times and ticket information.

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Complex antagonists and packed houses make playwright Robert Caisley ‘Happy’ (07-18-15)

Robert Caisley Happy 01Robert Caisley is Associate Professor of Theatre & Film, and Head of the Dramatic Writing Program at the University of Idaho. He was named the 2011 Blaine Quarnstrom Visiting Playwright at the University of Southern Mississippi. Presented at the 2011 National New Play Network (NNPN) Annual Showcase of New Plays, his play Happy was a Finalist for both the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center’s New Play Conference and the Woodward/Newman Award for Drama at Bloomington Playwrights Project. It was also selected for a NNPN Rolling World Premiere in the 2012/13 Robert Caisley Happy 02season at New Theatre (Miami, FL), Montana Repertory Theatre, 6thStreet Playhouse (Santa Rosa, CA), and New Jersey Repertory.

His other plays include Kissing (New Theatre, Coral Gables, FL), The Lake (Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia), Good Clean Fun (Montana Actors Theatre, Missoula), The 22-Day Adagio (Mill Mountain Theatre, Roanoke, VA), Front (developed at Sundance Playwright’s Lab and published by Samuel French), Kite’s Book (6thStreet Playhouse), Letters to an Alien (Mad HappyHorse Theatre, Portland, ME), Santa Fe (StageWorks/Hudson, New York, Finalist for the Heideman Award), and Winter, which received its World Premiere at New Theatre in Miami in January, 2012.

Happy is about a guy called Alfred Rehm. Alfred is happy about his life. Really happy. He’s happy Robert Caisley Happy 03with his job teaching French Literature. He’s happy with his fourteen year marriage to Melinda. He’s even happy raising his special needs daughter, Claire, who’s confined to a wheelchair. In fact, Alfred seems to be happy with everything and everyone in his life. But when his bohemian artist best friend Eduardo invites him to dinner to meet the latest woman in his life, Eva, a dour twenty-two year-old art student suspicious of anything ‘upbeat,’ things spin out of control. Alfred begins to doubt the authenticity of his happiness, and in turn, makes everyone’s lives utterly miserable. The dinner party ends in disaster when Alfred and Melinda are forced to reassess their marriage, indeed, their entire life. Happy is a play about how vicious and enviable we can be of people possessed with a natural joie de vivre. Originally from Rotherham, U.K., Caisley credits his father with infecting him with the theater bug. “My dad has been an actor as long as I can remember,” said Caisley in a recent interview. “He was always ‘going to rehearsal’ even when he had a full-time job and taking care of the family. He’s still acting today, and he, more than any one person, lured me into the theatre. He convinced me to audition for a local theatre’s production of O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! when I was 16 and I haven’t left the theatre since.

Caisley ultimately made the transition from actor to playwright. “From the beginning I knew I had a gift for dialogue, but I was young and mistook that for a talent for writing plays, which, while they obviously use dialogue to achieve dramatic tension, plays rely so much more on the particular circumstance you have concocted that is the occasion for the dialogue,” Caisley expounds. “ You have to have an idea which is, at its very core, dramatic because of its particular shape. And this is much harder to do, because it usually doesn’t come instinctively to a writer, the way having an ear for dialogue does. You have to work at plot-making. But it’s something you can easily study if you read enough plays and see enough theatre. And of course, the other playwriting skill that takes time to cultivate is the ability to distinguish between a line you’ve written that’s essential to the action of the play, and one that, while perhaps pleasing to the ear, has no business being in the play.”

Caisley has benefitted from the advice of several mentors in honing his playwriting skills. “The most influential mentor for me has been Jere Hodgin. He is a producer and director, and has been intimately involved in the early development of at least six of my plays. I love working with him on the first or second production of one of my plays. He’s smart and knows exactly the kind of questions to ask both the actors and myself in the rehearsal studio, which always prompts me to look for solutions to problems in the text.”

On lesson that Caisley has learned from Hodgin, others and his own playwriting experience is that your play is only as good as your antagonist, which is why Happy’s Eva is such an interesting and dynamic character.

Nothing excites Caisley more than going to a theater where the seats are all full – where, as with Lab Theater, a theater is serving a particular community, a particular demographic. “If the theatre is full, they must be doing something right and I respect that more than being passionate about any one kind of theatre,” Caisley says.

See above for play dates, times and ticket information.

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Lab Theater’s ‘Happy’ is vicious psychodrama that questions whether anyone can really be happy (07-16-15)

The Laboratory Theater of Florida presents the play Happy, opening Friday, August 14, 2015 at 8 p.m.

The story starts innocently enough. An artist has arranged a dinner party to introduce his friends to his new girlfriend. But sit tight. Everything is about to be upended. Tension builds as a simple, celebratory evening turns combative, and party guests confront more than they bargained for.

Robert Caisley’s psychodrama Happy ponders many philosophical questions: Is happiness a state one can achieve? Do we all live “lives of quiet desperation” as Thoreau believed? Or is happiness a choice, an attitude? It’s also full of dark humor.

Annette Trossbach, the artistic director of the theater, notes how the story evolves. “At first, it’s funny to watch the character of Eva pick apart her guests and the innocent lies they tell themselves. Eventually, though, Eva is unnerving to us all as she viciously picks apart anyone who lives in an actual state of happiness – something she perhaps cannot understand or appreciate. She’s jealous, calculating, and fascinating to watch.”

Anne Dodd directs the show. “I am a lover of the text. Everything you need to know about character and motivation is in the script,” she said. “My favorite part of the rehearsal process is mining for the gold, understanding the subtext. My job as a director is to serve the playwright’s story through the actors. It is a collaborative effort to make words on a page come to life and entertain an audience. This play is unsettling and provocative and we have much to chew on. The character of Eva is fascinating in her complexity. Is she merely a mercurial young woman with possible borderline personality disorder? Or is she sadistic and destructive and deliberately sabotaging the evening?”

Celebrated local artist and gallery owner Terry Tincher is providing the sculptures and paintings needed for the production. The setting is an industrial loft, which is Eduardo’s studio as well as his home.

The play has been compared to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as well as God of Carnage. It also brings to mind Neil LaBute, a playwright whose work frequently features a character who appears to be pulling all the strings to his or her own end. Playwright Robert Caisley is Associate Professor of Theatre & Film, and Head of the Dramatic Writing Program at the University of Idaho.

 

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