Theater Vertigo's current "dramedy," Escape from Happiness, focuses on one family—a mother, Nora (April Magnusson), and her three daughters—who have an ambiguous relationship with reality. Deserted for 10 years by Nora's husband, Tom (Erik James), the women have been forced to find their own way in the world. Their coping mechanics include, variously, delusion, motherhood, and a raging sense of injustice.
Tom has since returned, sick and old, to try to make amends with his family. Coinciding with Tom's return, his daughters find themselves caught up in a crime ring that forces into them into direct conflict with the outside world that they've been avoiding for so long.
George F. Walker's script is seriously funny; it's also smart and quite profane, two attributes that never fail to reassure me that I'm watching something culturally relevant. The script tackles all manner of heavy topics, from domestic abuse to police brutality. It would probably do better to avoid the heavy stuff altogether, seeing as how the weighty, carelessly addressed issues do nothing but muddle an already complicated script; but apparently the playwright felt compelled to write something that mattered, and his production suffers for his conscientiousness. Most of the show is cheeky and fun, so when the plot takes the occasional turn for the pedantic, it comes off as an irritating surprise.
The show's direction shares some of the writer's heavy-handedness; during a few scenes, comedy is squeezed out of the material like blood from the proverbial stone. While some of the comedic bits go unnecessarily lowbrow, seriously competent actors flesh out the challenging script: Keith Cable is scene-stealingly hilarious as an unimaginative, prototypical cop, while Yolanda Suarez collects her rightful share of laughs as the therapy-happy sister.
Theatrically speaking, comedy is an easy sell, and Escape from Happiness is a pleasant reminder of just how much fun it can be to share a few laughs with a room full of strangers: This show is funny. Genuinely fucking funny. The plot is convoluted and the ending feels a bit haphazard—but honestly, I don't think anyone will remember this play's plot after seeing it. They're much more likely to walk away feeling pleasantly surprised and generally entertained—not a bad night's work, as far as Vertigo is concerned.