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‘Happily Ever After’ at Ambassador Theater

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Cristina Colmena’s Happily Ever After is no fairytale! If you are in a mood for a spicy dark comedy about love’s tribulations, leave your children with a nanny and head to the Mead Theatre at Flash Point for an evening of laughter and self-reflection. The compelling play which had its world premiere on March 13th, delivers a truly entertaining experience with high emotional resonance. The play’s three acts have distinctive titles as each presents a different male-female scenario. We see young lovers destined to part in ‘Misunderstanding’; a promising one night stand which fails to blossom in ’ Don’t take it personally’; and keeping appearances after thirty years of marriage in ‘Melodrama.’ What bounds the three couples together, is their inability to act on their true needs due to fear, insecurity and pessimism. “These scenes are only snapshots of love stories, or better said, “un-love” stories”, says the author, who also writes, that the characters “could be anyone of us at some moment of our lives: we recognize these people, sometimes they even say the same things that we say.”

Karin Rosnizeck and Doug Krehbel. Photo by .Magda Pinkowska Gorman.

Karin Rosnizeck and Doug Krehbel. Photo by Magda Pinkowska Gorman.

The author’s choice to present three age groups symbolic of a lifetime worth of romantic vicissitudes and focus entirely on unhappy side of love does not necessarily fill one with optimism, especially those who are still waiting to experience couples’ bliss. Nevertheless, the play’s message is clear – if you keep sitting on a fence and do not overcome your fears and insecurities, happiness may pass you by. The impact of the play on the audience promptly materializes and is clearly heard, the response accentuated by bursts of laughter and sounds of disbelief, pity, approval or silence. Judging by the reactions of my two female friends sitting nearby, one in her thirties and happily married, the other in her sixties, deeply hurt and disappointed by a failed marriage, the amount of laughter may have depended on one’s life experiences. My younger friend appeared to be thoroughly entertained, the older rather silent and somber, likely touched in a painful place and forced to reflect on a sad past and loneliness of the present.

Ambassador’s Theater‘s production directed by Hanna Bondarewska, starring Karin Rosnizeck and Doug Krehbel, cleverly blends words with movement, music, light and dance. The impact of the Director’s vision makes its mark early in the play. The first act, in which the characters oscillate between moments of past and present, has been orchestrated like a musical piece with a clear rhythm, carefully measured movements, shifts, and light changes. The blackouts, accentuating and helping with transitions continue throughout the play, as does the projected image of a clock, reminding us about the importance of time and timing, and prompting us to act fast or we may end up old and unhappy. Harmonious synchronization of actors’ gestures is effectively used to create and magnify dramatic effects. Seeing the two one-night-standers in bed the morning after smoking cigarettes in unison, does not only heighten the comic effect of the scene, but also expertly kills any romantic vibes between the couple. The passionate tango scene choreographed by Francesca Jandasek and Dan Istrate, acts not only as an expression of chemistry between the lovers, but also adds to the overall melodic feel of the show.

The actors meet the challenges of having to incarnate different characters of distinctly different age groups with flying colors. With no characterization and only a costume change and few props at hand, they brilliantly combine facial expressions, voice modulation, body language, and age appropriate mannerisms to fool us into believing they are in their twenties or sixties. Whilst they play their own age effortlessly as ‘one-night-standers’, they surprisingly shine the brightest as ’60-somethings’ in the third act.

Costume Designer Basmah Alomar (Costume Designer) makes excellent choices of costumes and props. Set Designer Jonathan Rushbrook was faced with a different challenge of having to switch from a bar to a bedroom setting with minimal transition time. A big single platform is used as a table top in a cafe scene as well as a bed in the next two acts and serves its purpose perfectly, transformed only with handful of accessories such as side lamps, bar stools, bed linen and a few basic props. Lighting, designed by Stephen Shelter, is crucial in marking the time transitions, creating ‘flash-backs’ and facilitating swift set changes between the acts. So are the sound and music, which under the expert care of Sound and Video Designer David Crandall  define the setting of each act, emphasize the mood and fill our ears with beautiful music.

Spring is only three days away (believe it or not!), and is a great time to reflect on our love lives – and to make adjustments or start over. Don’t miss Happily Ever After! It delivers a valuable opportunity to reflect on love and its challenges, and to learn from mistakes made by unlucky lovers. Take the melodrama personally or just relax and enjoy the show because you will be thoroughly entertained!

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Happily Ever After plays at Ambassador Theater through March 30, 2014 at Mead Theater Lab at Flashpoint – 916 G St, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.

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