Audiences at Lincoln Center Theater are receiving a comprehensive education in the polyamorous lifestyle in Sarah Ruhl’s whimsical and spiritual domestic drama, “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage,” which resembles a variation of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” where Brad and Janet are replaced by two middle-aged, well-educated suburban couples and Dr. Frank-N-Furter is an extremely attractive and aggressive young woman.
Ruhl has won acclaim over the past decade for her unconventional and poignant dramas that explore the inner longings and complexities of women with a critical eye, a mischievous spirit and lyrical language.
The play begins with two married couples — George (Marisa Tomei) and Paul (Omar Metwally), Jane (Robin Weigert) and Michael (Brian Hutchison) — discussing Pip (Lena Hall), a temp at Jane’s law firm who is in an open relationship with two live-in boyfriends. Pip also hunts and kills animals for meat.
Intrigued, and maybe aroused, the couples invite the trio to join them for New Year’s Eve. Over wine and hash brownies, an abstract discussion spontaneously morphs into a sultry karaoke session and then group erotic activity — which is uncomfortably interrupted by the entrance of Jane and Michael’s freaked-out teenage daughter (Naian Gonzalez Norvind).
The couples must then confront the consequences of their misadventures, Pip’s unexplained disappearance and the discomforting notion that even respectable parents in New Jersey have complicated sexual desires.
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 (who won a Tony for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) is a perfect casting choice for Pip, full of sex appeal, fearlessness and mystery, while Tomei (whose character also serves as narrator) emphasizes the vulnerability shared by her peers.
“How to Transcend a Happy Marriage” runs at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater May 20 through May 7. Lincoln Center Plaza, lct.org.