Sarah Ruhl’s “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage” at Custom Made Theatre

Sarah Ruhl’s “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage”  at Custom Made Theatre

Carol Benet

Sarah Ruhl is such a hot playwright that this year two of her plays are being performed in the Bay Area.  Her “Becky Nurse of Salem” runs at the Berkeley  Rep. runs through January 26. “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage” just opene  at Custom Made Theatre. Her “In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play” premiered at the Rep and went on to New York. Ruhl, a MacArthur Genius Award winner with plays translated into over twelve languages, is one of the most important contemporary American playwrights.


“How to Transcend a Happy Marriage” is a romp.  Two couples hear about an office temp. worker who has two male lovers with whom she lives.  They are curious and decide to invite the threesome to dinner.

Free spirit Pip (Fenner) and her men David (Nick Trengove) and Freddie (Louel Senores) come to Jane (Hilary Hesse) and Michael’s (Malcolm Rodgers) house along with George (Karen Offereins) and Paul (Matt Weimer).  There is a stare-down at first and then the questions come pouring out.  What is it like?  How do they manage it?  

Pip is matter of fact.  Nothing fazes her but she would like to do karaoke

so Jane searches for her daughter Jenna’s (Celeste Kamilya) set and with much anticipation. The others watch Pip’s erotic performances, song and dance, to “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Corner”, an old American classic.  But it turns into a very sexy presentation, pole dance and all.  with Jane becoming the pole.

Then they eat the brownies that the threesome brought that are laced with dope.  They all get high and the first act becomes a riotous affair where they all mingle and behave badly.  The act ends when  the teen-age daughter Jenna comes home early from her New Year’s Eve Party and finds them all naked and entangled in each others bodies.

Where will this play go in the second Act?  Lots of talk about what is normal, executable and what is way out there with polyamory being the main subject.  Pip is also unusual because they/them only eats what they/them can slaughter so George and they/them go hunting for deer that would fill up Pip’s refrigerator and last for a year.  Instead of a deer though George, the newcomer to hunting and archery kills something else.  

And at this point I will not say anything else.  You have to attend the play to get the full story.  And it is a very funny story with a beginning, middle and end as in all of Ruhl’s plays.

The acting is wonderful in the demanding parts that require all of their physical maneuverability.  Adam L. Sussman’s direction creates a terrific production in the small stage in the 99 seat theater.  Quinnton Barringer’s set, from living room to hunting field, is simple and smart.  Kathleen Qui’s costumes are appropriate, especially Pip’s colorful outfit.  Lighting (Weili Shi) and sound (Everett Elton Bradman) enliven the show.

“How to Transcend a Happy Marriage”  at Custom Made Theatre runs through February 9, 2020.  

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to and all posts by Carol Benet →