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How to Transcend a Happy Marriage

From 35 critic and 199 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Quirky, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Entertaining

About the show

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. More…

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.


"While 'How to Transcend a Happy Marriage' emerges as one of the most thought-provoking plays of the year, as well as one of Ruhl's best, the built-in irony of the title takes on a special meaning when we learn, in the end, that it really is about transcendence, through 'harmony.'" Full Review

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

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

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


“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

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 not need magical embellishment...It’s a flawed play with a very enjoyable first act." Full Review


"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


"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


“A wonderful addition to the Sarah Ruhl canon: a moving exploration of the limits—or is it the limitlessness?—of love…I don’t want to ruin the fun—and there is a lot of fun here—by telling you what happens…There are plenty of laughs along the way, especially from the ageless and brilliant Marisa Tomei...Lena Hall is well cast as the mystical Pip, but everyone in the play is a winner.” Full Review

More Than The Play Blog

“Ruhl skillfully transports the audience into the experiences of the characters and induces an intense level of reflection on their journey…Ms. Ruhl finds the poetry and music in these characters' tumultuous experiences that bring intellectual and emotional understanding of their growth and change…If you are a fan of Sarah Ruhl’s work, you will definitely find this play worth seeing. The cast is excellent, the directing (by Rebecca Taichman) is unified, and the writing is authentic." Full Review

Village Voice

“An intriguing new comedy…Ruhl's comic yet earnest mix of contemporary fact and timeless fantasy is matched by Taichman's buoyant staging and grounded by Tomei's warm and yearning George. As presented here, polyamory complicates things (think of the logistics!) but also satisfies the human animal's omnivorous nature and spiritual longing to be part of something bigger. Striving for transcendence, George discovers that magic and meaning were in the neighborhood all along.” Full Review


"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

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

This Week in New York Blog

“An extremely clever play…Sarah Ruhl and director Rebecca Taichman neither defend nor attack polyamory while dealing with such issues as personal and familial responsibility, shame, and sexuality throughout one’s life. The cast is uniformly strong, but Lena Hall does the heavy lifting with an infectious lightness…The second act is much darker than the first and sometimes goes astray…Ruhl still has a bit more to say, bringing it all back home with a sweetly meaningful finale.” Full Review

Off Off Online

"One of the great joys of Ruhlian drama is luxuriating in its complex nest of ideas...Ruhl’s dense tissue of quotations makes familiar concerns feel new...Metwally and Weigert, the standouts among a strong cast, negotiate this dangerous territory best, providing a beating heart for their characters that doesn't exist on the page...For all the play’s variegated pleasures, however, it’s hard not to wish that such talented artists would begin to look beyond the walls of the privileged few." Full Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"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

Ambitious, Intense, Thought-provoking, Refreshing, Must see

See it if You want to see an incredible company perform an incredibly raw, sophisticated, sexy, intelligent play! Lena Hall, Marissa Tomei - Stellar!

Don't see it if You cringe at anything outside the box of your own comfortable existence. This play makes your heart beat race. The intensity is fantastic!

Clever, Great acting, Edgy, Ambitious, 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.

Clever, Delightful, Enchanting, Funny, Entertaining

See it if You like funny, thought provoking theater with wit and humor.

Don't see it if Polyamory makes you nervous.

Visceral, Funny, Great acting, Intelligent, Great writing

See it if you like to think in the theatre, if you love a complex, riveting story that is beautifully performed by an ensemble led by two strong women

Don't see it if you're a prude or if you're uncomfortable with frank treatment of sexuality.

Clever, Entertaining, Edgy, Great acting

See it if If you want to see a show about polyamory

Don't see it if If you enjoy conservative topics

Entertaining, Ambitious, Edgy

See it if You want something thought-provoking but funny. And don't want to miss Marisa Tomer. A Delicate Balance for the times.

Don't see it if You're easily embarrassed esp. if your kids are with you

Edgy, Entertaining, Intense, Thought-provoking, Raunchy

See it if You enjoy Sarah Ruhl's work. It is a bit raunchy but has some truly heartfelt moments.

Don't see it if N/A

Clever, Elegant, Thought-provoking, Feminist

See it if Sarah Ruhl's writing resonates to you and you enjoy listening to a smart feminist art

Don't see it if you're easily offended by an intelligent feminist piece and a discussion of sex on stage.

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Great writing, Thought-provoking

See it if If you like contemporary theatre challenging old styles of thought and normality. It's an interesting play that twists into something else

Don't see it if You are uncomfortable with non heteronormative relationships and way of thinking

Entertaining, Great acting, Great writing, Thought-provoking, Profound

See it if You don't mind facing some of humanities big yet un-asked questions. It's light and funny and then at the same time very profound

Don't see it if You aren't willing to delve into an at times abstract look inward at the contradictions of modern day relationships and sexuality.

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

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

Edgy, Raunchy, Ambitious

See it if You want an interesting show about discontent in a monogamous relationship.

Don't see it if Drugs or sex in a show bothers you.

Edgy, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if You love Marisa Tomei and are willing to examine traditions surrounding marriage, love, family and relationships.

Don't see it if If you can't tolerate explicit language, sex and nudity on stage. Not appropriate for children under 13.

Funny, Clever, Great acting, Refreshing, Thought-provoking

See it if you like fresh ideas explored on stage, in this case polyamory, group sex & friendship between couples, appreciate Marisa Tomei's talent

Don't see it if Post modern sexual behavior and graphic talk disturbs you, you are not a fan of magical realism or allegories, you need plots wrapped up

Absorbing, Funny, Great acting, Great writing, Refreshing

See it if You are a Sarah Ruhr fan, you love Marisa Tomei, you want to see a new play that makes you think.

Don't see it if Issues of polygamy make you uncomfortable, you don't want to see nudity on stage.

Clever, Entertaining, Delightful

See it if You like a play with layers: an entertaining story about modern marriage plus references to mathematics, Latin, Greek, architecture, myth

Don't see it if You are not open to discussions of polyamory, and very brief nudity.

Funny, Dizzying, Edgy

See it if You love to see good acting.

Don't see it if You don't like to see plays that are over the top.

Also Great acting.I felt that the theme was somewhat overdone and unconvinc... Read more Read less

Entertaining, Great acting, Quirky

See it if you like plays & great acting,

Don't see it if you need things that are literal, you are intolerant

Funny, Edgy, Quirky, Wild, Provocative

See it if you are down for a wild adventure and in the mood to laugh about some weird situations

Don't see it if you are planning to see a tame show with your parents, grandparents, or stuck up co-worker.

Funny, Clever, Absorbing, Intelligent, Great writing

See it if you like Sarah Ruhl plays or want to see what might be perceived as an average "living room drama" turned on its head.

Don't see it if you are uncomfortable with talk of sexuality.

Clever, Funny, Great acting, Confusing, Edgy

See it if You are a big Marisa Tomei fan and you like a talented group ensemble. Also if you like quirky stories.

Don't see it if you don't like characters who speak directly to the audience, if sexual acts or situations make you uncomfortable, if you hate confusion.

Also The plot is confusing (and seems unfinished) but the acting is good an... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Great acting, Great writing, Absorbing, Quirky

See it if you enjoy Sarah Ruhl's take on modern relationships, Marisa Tomei and Lena Hall amongst two in the cast that shines

Don't see it if you have Puritanical values, they will be shaken

Absorbing, Entertaining, Funny, Edgy, Quirky

See it if You want a well written, thinking story with solid acting, great writing and timing. It's funny, appealing, very enjoyable and provocative.

Don't see it if Unusual display and discussion of sexuality bothers you.

Clever, Great acting, Edgy, Indulgent, Profound

See it if Big Marisa Tomei fan she shines in this

Don't see it if A bit wordy script with too much addressing the audience

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

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.

Cast & Creatives (16)