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How to Transcend a Happy Marriage

Members say: Great acting, Quirky, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Entertaining
71
Critics
65
35 reviews
Members
72
197 reviews
 

Oscar winner Marisa Tomei and Tony winner Lena Hall star in Sarah Ruhl's new play at Lincoln Center about the boundaries of monogamy, the limits of friendship, and what happens when parents indulge their wild sides.

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At a dinner party in New Jersey, George (Marisa Tomei) and her husband talk with a fellow married couple about a younger acquaintance—a polyamorous woman (Lena Hall) who also hunts her own meat. Fascinated, they invite this mysterious woman and her two live-in boyfriends to a New Year’s Eve party which alters the course of their lives.

 

Cast & Creatives (16)



Reviews (232)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
65
Avg Score

65
The New York Times

"An idea-inebriated, unsteady comedy...Fanciful mysticism and anchoring reality coexist less comfortably in 'How to Transcend a Happy Marriage' than they do in other works by Ms. Ruhl. Though the cast members are uniformly agile and appealing, they seldom seem entirely at home in their characters’ skins...The elements never quite coalesce into a single fluid stream of thought or story. Ms. Ruhl is suspended ambivalently here between satire and empathy." Full Review

75
Theatermania

"Ruhl approaches the subject with her usual wit and intelligence, subtly questioning our societal assumptions around love and commitment...Director Taichman impressively grounds Ruhl's prodigious intellect in an ever-present dramatic tension...Unfortunately, the archetypal nature of our central triad somewhat masks the truth that polyamorous groupings are made of all types...Still, a combination of thoughtful performances and smart direction ensures that we never feel bored or alienated." Full Review

80
BroadwayWorld

“Conversing over drinks and hors d'oeuvres, their talk is crisp and entertaining…While Hall is appropriately the production's attention-grabber, Tomei's performance comfortably builds as George questions her life's directions, leading ‘How to Transcend a Happy Marriage’ to a charming phantasmagorical finish that points out the conflict between our animal nature and the societal norms we create to control it.” Full Review

40
Variety

“The setting for this experimental piece is exceptionally handsome, and under the sure directorial hand of Rebecca Taichman, a tip-top cast headed by Marisa Tomei performs with brio. Nonetheless, the show is both baffling and boring…An initially provocative but eventually lame play…This new work has a lot on its mind that deserves our attention…But no solid matter emerges from these wink-wink hints at deeper substance.” Full Review

60
Time Out New York

"Sarah Ruhl has written an amiable hour about monogamy and its discontents...Then, unfortunately, Ruhl inserts an intermission, spins out 35 more minutes of chatty whimsy...A light, frolicsome one-act mutates into a mediocre marriage play...If 'How to Transcend' were a tryst, it would be two hours of light foreplay followed by your partner drifting abstractedly into the next room to browse books on Eastern philosophy. Eventually, you get up and leave, quite unsatisfied." Full Review

60
The Hollywood Reporter

"After a sexy and amusing first act, 'How to Transcend a Happy Marriage' goes downhill quickly...Director Rebecca Taichman has assembled a terrific ensemble for this production...They’re ultimately undone by the problematic script...Featuring fast and funny dialogue, the play initially seems to be operating on all cylinders. But the second act, which delves into magical realism, becomes hopelessly murky and confusing." Full Review

60
The Huffington Post

"Playwright Ruhl is once again provocative, colorful and humorous. But to what avail? Beats me. It’s fine for your play to have a mystical air...but please make it pay off, one way or another...Well staged by Rebecca Taichman...The somewhat questionable play is enhanced by a very good cast...Ruhl continues to impress as a playwright, highly so. Whatever she was aiming at with 'Happy Marriage,' though, didn’t transcend this viewer." Full Review

45
New York Magazine / Vulture

"Taichman appears to have encouraged the entire cast to play it large and play it for laughs, which are mostly not forthcoming...Surrealism undermines the play at every turn...If you think of it as a daydream or an anthology of oddities, 'How to Transcend' is potentially fascinating. But as a play—even the carefully artificial kind that Ruhl, almost uniquely, sometimes pull off—it’s surprisingly dry and importunate. The proportion of ideas to people is out of whack." Full Review

60
New York Theater

"Ruhl is a lovely writer, capable of witty aphorisms, sophisticated dialogue, humorous setups, and a theatrical sense of wonder. She also has a tendency towards the twee. All this is on display in 'Marriage,' but this play doesn’t come together as effectively as some of her previous theater that touches on similar territory...As reliable and appealing as the rest of cast is, they are portraying characters that seem deliberately bland...Manages to be simultaneously entertaining and tedious." Full Review

75
Theater Life

"The first act unravels like a tacky sex farce...Sexual and spiritual complications follow in the deeper second act. The characters gain dimension and the proceedings acquire a fantastic, whimsical tinge...Director Rebecca Taichman and an adept cast handle the transition with dexterity...Tomei paints the stage with a palette full of emotional colors...It’s a startlingly affecting performance in a surprisingly effective play which transcends categories." Full Review

55
Lighting & Sound America

"The play, after initially charting a funny, if familiar, dramatic course, collapses in a heap of half-expressed ideas and unraveled plot strands...For much of the first act, 'How to Transcend' is very funny, in a conventional, old-school sex comedy kind of way...Completely implodes after intermission...As the action continues to flag, it seems clear that Ruhl has little or no idea where to take her beleaguered married couples...The cast, led by a delightful Marisa Tomei...is faultless." Full Review

40
Front Row Center

“A predictable first act, with all the dots connected. Any connection to anything-at-all is lost in the second act…The only character to whom we relate is the extraordinary Marisa Tomei…Her monologues begin as intriguing exposition and eventually explode into majestic arias that Tomei handles understated skill…But these flashes of light and intrigue are like fireworks that flare and then disappear...We don’t care a whit for anyone, with the exception of George.” Full Review

60
Theatre's Leiter Side

“Ruhl's multipronged discussion comedy, crisply directed by Rebecca Taichman, is preachy, uneven, and provocative; it's also confusing, occasionally funny, intermittently engrossing, and intellectually ambitious...No one manages to transcend Ruhl's contrivances to create a truly believable human being. Hall makes as much of her flamboyant role as could anyone...Tomei...doesn't quite overcome the artificialities of the chitchat required in the early scenes but gradually comes into her own.” Full Review

85
AM New York

"Many may be turned off by its discursive and confessional tone or its unsettling sexual propositions. But for those willing to take the ride, the play is a provocative and poetic meditation on being caught between reasonably happy domesticity and untapped, unacknowledged desires. Hall is a perfect casting choice for Pip, full of sex appeal, fearlessness and mystery, while Tomei emphasizes the vulnerability shared by her peers." Full Review

60
Talkin' Broadway

“Slick and well paced enough to spackle over some of the pockmarks in Ruhl's unsteady dialogue…Taichman also guides her actors to play up their necessarily volatile characteristics without roundly dipping into caricature…Unfortunately, Ruhl does not match their group discipline in the second act…This is really tired territory for her…Against the odds, Ruhl regains some of her momentum in the final scene, and brings things to a thoughtful, even moving, finish.” Full Review

40
The Clyde Fitch Report

"The play looked a good deal like a young playwright discoursing brashly on what she thought she’d wisely concluded about the older generation. Not a mid-career playwright discoursing brashly on the same...To director Rebecca Taichman’s credit, she stages the sex play well...Every one of the eight actors — with Taichman dispatching them well — gives the playwright what she wants. It’s not their fault that what Ruhl wants is sometimes predictable, sometimes obscure." Full Review

65
Times Square Chronicles

"What ensues or so we think is an orgy between all seven...The problem with this is none of this makes sense...Marisa Tomei narrates the play and she is transcendent. Her luminous nature and the timber of her voice make this drama easy to watch...Also standing out was Lena Hall as the girl everyone wants...Rebecca Taichman is a director to watch...This is a show men will like much more than women, as the questions that are being asked are men’s fantasy and a women’s nightmare." Full Review

55
New York Daily News

"Sarah Ruhl’s play starts with promise, is skillfully acted and deftly staged by Rebecca Taichman, but after a magical twist, one of the author’s signatures, the story about the limits and limitlessness of love turns ungainly and less interesting...The play is too much." Full Review

60
Deadline

"Until this point, Ruhl has been content juxtaposing complacency and adventure, and the usual ideas of youth versus maturity...Soon, those ideas begin to lose focus for us; they become less engaging, more annoying. It’s possible that the usually astute director Taichman has ceded editorial control over the goings-on, for 'How to Transcend' reads better than it plays in this production–the fine work of fine actors notwithstanding. The takeaway is more head-scratching than transcendent." Full Review

80
Newsday

"This new play is a subversive enchantment. It is part absurd domestic serio-comedy, part erotic magic realism, unflinching about taboos and about questioning that, just maybe, monogamy isn’t enough...Directed without sensationalism but with intrepid good humor by Taichman, the inevitable bacchanalian reveries ensue. But so does heady talk about Pythagorean triangles, the immortality of a Bach minuet, grief, architecture and why women are expected to lose their 'animal nature' after childbirth." Full Review

85
The Wrap

"Provocative and enlightening...It abounds with situations that lead its characters to say the most quotable things, all of which should be experienced live in the theater and not in any critic’s review. They’re that memorable...It’s a quibble, but 'How to Transcend a Marriage' so abounds with ideas and novel situations that Ruhl’s characters occasionally take a backseat...The playwright is blessed with a magnificent cast under the always sensitive direction of Rebecca Taichman." Full Review

80
Bob's Theater Blog

"The dialogue is smart, funny and sexy, the actors have achieved a fine ensemble and the direction is seamless, once again demonstrating how well-attuned Taichman is to Ruhl’s sensibility...While the first act is nearly perfect, the play has serious second-act problems...While I have no problem with magical realism, I don't feel it works here. The points that I thought Ruhl wanted to make...do not need magical embellishment...It’s a flawed play with a very enjoyable first act." Full Review

80
CitiTour

"Both a very funny and decidedly rueful examination about the challenges of long-term matrimony. Perhaps Ruhl’s most overtly comic work—not to mention her most accessible one...Under Rebecca Taichman’s excellent direction, Tomei delivers one of the most riveting and multi-layered performances of her long career, whether she’s commanding center stage alone or blending into the ensemble...Ruhl’s simply given us food for thought and a lot of laughs." Full Review

70
Broadway & Me

“The two-hour journey to these epiphanies is less a narrative than a series of vignettes, some more entertaining than others…But the dialog sparkles with Ruhl's trademark wit and lyricism. And director Rebecca Taichman ably juggles Ruhl's abiding interest in female sexuality with her more metaphysical fancies…The entire cast is excellent…Marisa Tomei and Robin Weigert are particularly appealing as George and Jane.” Full Review

85
Theater Pizzazz

"What’s it all about? Ultimately, in playwright Sarah Ruhl’s world, it’s all about food, love and how we carry it forward for future generations...Tomei shines in her effervescent unrestricted performance as George. Lena Hall couldn’t be a better choice as the polyamorous Pip. The cast, en total, is brilliant. Sarah Ruhl, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is full of surprises as she casts her imaginative net.” Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
72
Avg Score

74
Ambitious, Clever, Dizzying, Great acting, Quirky

See it if You enjoy a great ensemble cast with a quirky story premise that is fun and interesting and definitely a little odd.

Don't see it if You need your story to be straightforward. The oddness adds to the appeal here.

95
Ambitious, Clever, Edgy, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if you like shows that challenge the audience to really think about relationships, sex and love. Marisa Tomei best performance of the year!

Don't see it if you have a very closed mind and don't want to be confronted with other realites.

69
Edgy, Raunchy, Refreshing, Confusing

See it if You want to experience Lena Hall's version of "She'll be Coming Round the Mountain." You like edgy plays about sex and don't mind ambiguity.

Don't see it if You don't want to hear frank sexual talk about polyamory, group sex, sexual acts, etc.

Also Stilted performances, and use of magical realism with an unclear messa... Read more Read less

70
Ambitious, Edgy, Great acting, Disappointing

See it if you like to check out new work or are a fan of Sarah Ruhl's work. Worth a visit for the great cast, standouts are Marisa Tomie & Lena Hall.

Don't see it if you are a prude and/or do not have an open mind

79
Intelligent, Romantic, Great staging, Bold, Discomforting

See it if You love Sarah Ruhl. This is not her strongest play, but it is definitely of her aesthetic and, perhaps, one of her boldest.

Don't see it if You do not like theater that makes you uncomfortable. This play is all about the subversion of perceived rules of sex, romance and marriage.

80
Great acting, Thought-provoking, Quirky, Raunchy, Relevant

See it if You're interested in hearing a topical, relevant discussion on modern love and sexuality.

Don't see it if Frank discussions of sex, bisexuality, polyamory and topics of that ilk make you cringe, even if they're humorous.

71
Solid acting, often funny, but play misses the mark, Tomei shines

See it if You like Ruhl, or want to support interesting new play...or just because you are a Tomei fan (as I am).

Don't see it if You are uncomfortable with explicit sexuality, or discussion about non-traditional values. Definitely for adults only.

75
Funny, Edgy, Great acting, Intelligent, Entertaining

See it if like Marisa Tomei or Lena Hall; it's definitely racy and different than almost anything out there. Definitely for adult audiences

Don't see it if don't like discussions of sex and non-traditional relationships

88
Clever, Enchanting, Thought-provoking, Raunchy, Great writing

See it if Marisa Tomei leads a first rate cast; Sarah Ruhl continues to explore the sexual awakening of her characters

Don't see it if The fantastical often occurs in the play

77
Clever, Great acting, Quirky, Great writing, Entertaining

See it if You want to experience a unique play that tackles issues not often addressed on stage,such as polyamory. Excellent performances.

Don't see it if You prefer plays dealing with more traditional subject matter.

70
Funny, Quirky, Entertaining

See it if You are interested in an unusual exploration of sexuality and friendship in and out of marriage.

Don't see it if Explicit talk and some overt acts of sexuality, specially non-traditional sexuality would offend you.

75
Ambitious, Edgy, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Great staging

See it if you are discontent with monogamy and curious about polyamory. This domestic drama has surreal/poetic touches that will keep you thinking.

Don't see it if you want a linear play without a "what-is-going-on? second act feeling/thinking. Not many answers but lots of questions explored here.

75
Funny, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Quirky, Interesting

See it if you're up for a story about a polyamorous situation and how others react to it.

Don't see it if you don't have an open mind.

68
Ambitious, Confusing

See it if You're willing to be puzzled over what it means. The play is interesting, and I didn't hate it (friends did) but I didn't get it either.

Don't see it if Sexual situations on stage make you uncomfortable.

70
Edgy, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Raunchy, Relevant

See it if if you're in the mood for a quirky, odd, neat little play. Excellent cast, cool storyline, great set. A very enjoyable evening of theater.

Don't see it if you're turned off by the complexities of a marriage. The cast takes a bit to find their chemistry, but once they do, it's a good show.

59
Raunchy, Confusing, Disappointing

See it if you like Ruhl's plays. Not really my thing. The play explores love and relationships in various permutations and can be thought provoking

Don't see it if can not handle dealing with sex and sexuality. There is brief nudity. An orgy is loosely depicted. As for the play, it's a bit convoluted.

Also Marisa Tomei and Lena Hall are giving very good performances in a prob... Read more Read less

70
Funny, Great acting, Intelligent, Indulgent, Excruciating

See it if Act I was hysterical - smart, funny and relevant, if a bit cliched. It flew by. Marisa Tomei really commits to her character.

Don't see it if Act II went to a very weird and unpleasant place. Started looking at my watch after 20 minutes.

Also So sad that a play that started out so promisingly ended up an unpleas... Read more Read less

62
Funny, Well acted, Odd

See it if You adore plays by Sarah Ruhl ( I don't) or with Matisa Tomei ( I do).

Don't see it if You don't have a subscription to LCT .

55
Quirky, Disappointing

See it if Like non-substantial theatre with ideas that didn't go anywhere.

Don't see it if Want a better play.

78
Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Quirky, Confusing

See it if You are a fan of Sarah Ruhl, Marisa Tomei, or Lena Hall. Watching people deal with awkward sexual situations is interesting to you.

Don't see it if Hyper-sexuality & polyamory make you uncomfortable. You prefer plays more rooted in reality-- this stretched a li'l too far outside reality.

Also I could get behind the hyper-sexual story line, with the middle-aged c... Read more Read less

60
Great acting, Relevant, Indulgent, Entertaining, Disjointed

See it if you like to see plays that explore what romantic relationships and frienships can be.

Don't see it if it concerns you that the play moves from realism to a disjointed structure that doesn't seem to work well.

59
Indulgent, Banal, Confusing, Disappointing

See it if See if for the naturalistic, absorbing performance of Marisa Tomei.

Don't see it if The actors are good but they have little to work with. The play is convoluted and loses any meaning/message it might have wanted to convey.

80
Ambitious, Dizzying, Good pacing, Quirky sarah ruhl script

See it if You Like Sarah Ruhl, enjoy quirky dramady's with imaginative journey's for the ensemble cast. Very well paced. Marisa Tomei's the stand out

Don't see it if You don't like plays about sex or sex talk, polygamy, orgies, fantasy. Also the author tackle dozens of marital themes, not settling on one.

60
Intelligent, Quirky, Indulgent, Confusing

See it if you are already a fan of Sarah Ruhl or want to see Lena Hall slay with "She'll Be Coming Around The Mountain".

Don't see it if you dislike 4th wall breaking, unresolved metaphors, or whiny middle-aged couples.

75
Edgy, Intelligent, Entertaining

See it if You like seeing plays with some interesting ideas that pushes the envelope. Some good acting, even if the scenarios feel a bit too forced.

Don't see it if you aren't into seeing sexual norms questioned and want a more conventional, less modern play.