Freedom, not love, tops LaBute’s list of “Reasons to Be Happy”

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“REASONS TO BE HAPPY”

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

When: Through Oct. 12

Where: Profiles Theatre Mainstage, 4139 N. Broadway

Tickets: $35-$40

Info: (773) 549-1815; http://www.profilestheatre.org

Run time: 95 minutes with no intermission

Is Greg, the man at the center of Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to Be Happy,”every woman’s worst nightmare — easily likable but forever unable to commit? Or is he just the monkey in the middle — the hapless guy caught between two women with more “issues” than he might ever be able to handle, at least at this point in his life?

Personal experience will no doubt be crucial to how you respond to these questions. But by the end of LaBute’s play, one conclusion you might come to is that everyone here should be happy (or at least relieved), as strange as that might seem. As those Rolling Stones lyrics so aptly put it: “You can’t always get what you want,” but you might just get what you need.

When we first see him, Greg (Eric Burgher), a substitute teacher, is being verbally accosted outside a Costco by Steph (Domenica Cameron Scorsese), his ex-girlfriend, who is now married and works in a salon. Shrill and relentless, Steph is shrewd (though notably uneducated) — a little tornado of rage sent into a tailspin because she has just learned that Greg has become involved with Carly (Sarah Loveland), her longtime best friend. Clearly she believes that the four-year relationship she once had with Greg requires that he at least keep her informed about his personal life. Of course it also becomes clear that her marriage is not making her happy, and that she wants to get back with Greg.

Greg puts up with a lot of abuse, perhaps because he is oddly flattered that Steph can still get so worked up about him, or perhaps because he is simply incapable of defending himself in any convincing way. But the truth is, Steph is so off-putting it’s difficult to understand why he doesn’t just tell her to get lost.

And then we meet Carly, who is divorced from the thuggish, truly moronic Kent (Dennis Bisto), and who has essentially been left on her own to raise their daughter. Carly has a deadening job as a security guard in a factory — the same place where Greg once worked, but from which he clearly has escaped. Beautiful and far more mature than Steph, Carly appreciates Greg’s seeming sincerity, and the fact that he is far more evolved than Kent. But things start to fall apart even before she tells Greg she is pregnant. As it turns out, Greg might just be on his way back to Steph, who has already walked out on her husband.

Torn between the two women, but above all wholly unsettled in himself, Greg finally makes a choice that seems totally selfish. But in its own way it liberates everyone. For chances are that neither coupling (or re-coupling) would have worked. Greg is a man still in search of his own adulthood, and whether he ever finds it by striking out on his own is an unknown.

Director Darrell W. Cox and his cast do everything LaBute asks, but the play’s unabated bickering quickly grows nerve-wracking. Though conceived as a “follow-up” to “Reasons to Be Pretty,” LaBute’s earlier play about these characters, the only way to connect all the relationship dots here would be to see the two works staged back-to-back. And with the exception of Carly, none of them are interesting enough to warrant that attention.

I saw LaBute’s play just a couple of days after seeing the exceptional Cole Theatre production of Mike Leigh’s “Ecstasy” —another play about troubled working class characters that comes with a similarly ironic title. “Ecstasy” left me mourning for the characters. “Reasons to Be Happy” left me happy to have parted company with them.

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