Dark comedy 'Happy, Happy, Happy' takes the cake

Playwrights explore desire, sacrifice, secrets, love, motherhood; Play runs Oct. 13-28

Playwrights  and actors Jenn Ruzumna and Lisa Every didn’t have a comedy in mind when they sat down to write the script for what would later be called “Happy, Happy, Happy.”

“We had our reading about it, and everyone was laughing pretty much throughout the entire play,” Every said. “I think the dark part of the comedy, I think it comes from everything is so heightened.”

“Happy, Happy, Happy” is a story about Lauren, a woman grappling with her grandmother’s funeral, her best friend’s secrets, a husband running from some of his own and a troubled son whose 19th birthday is happening the same day; she is also tasked with creating a 10-layer gluten-free cake.

“Everybody has secrets here,” Ruzumna said, “some bigger than others.”

“The two women in the play, the women are not autobiographical by any stretch of the imagination,” Every said, “but there are things about both women that were interesting to both Jenn and I.”

The playwrights said “Happy, Happy, Happy” explores ideas around sacrifice, desire, secrets, motherhood and the pros and cons of serving both oneself and a family.

“We’re not trying to say one is one way and one is the other way,” Every said.

Every said her grandmother died before they began writing the play, and it got her thinking about life and how to live in a meaningful and mindful way.

Ruzumna and Every have been collaborating in the Seattle theater scene for more than a decade. Their first production was of the short story “Penelope’s Web,” by Christopher Rush. Their short plays “The Poster” and “The Wedding Day” were produced during two seasons of Studio for Seattle’s annual short play festival.

The two said they never really considered conflict when collaborating.

“I would write one scene, and Jenn would write another. I’d edit hers, and she would edit mine,” Every said. “I always felt like I had truly this artistic partner in the process.”

The two will also star in “Happy, Happy, Happy,” with Every playing the lead role of Lauren and Ruzumna playing her friend Annie. Martyn G. Krouse plays Lauren’s husband Will and Warren Levi Haney plays Lauren’s 19-year-old son, Caleb.

Ruzumna said casting started with the first public reading of the play at West of Lenin in Fremont, where Krouse was tapped to play Will. The role of Caleb was a difficult one to fill, she said.

“Warren was just, he was really kind of open and earnest and very connected with Jenn in the first audition,” Every said, “in the first 30 seconds.”

“Happy, Happy, Happy” plays Oct. 13-28 at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway, 1524 Harvard Ave., with each show starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18-25, and available here.

The show is being produced by Macha Theatre Works and directed by the company’s new artistic director Amy Poisson.

“Honestly, the story of how it came about, before I even heard it, I sort of fell in love with it,” Poisson said of her take on the play.

She first heard it during a reading in Every’s living room. The two had worked together on a show last year.

“I was really taken by it,” Poisson said about the play. “These women were not being put on pedestals, they were not vilified. They were just living their lives and making real f***ed up choices.”

Formerly Macha Monkey Productions, Macha was rebranded this year, and “Happy, Happy, Happy” is the first show Poisson is producing for the theater company.

A nonprofit arts organization, Macha Theatre Works is all about producing works that feature strong female characters. But that doesn’t mean it’s exclusionary, Poisson said.

“For me, my feminism is inclusive, for everybody; not just for females or people who identify as female. I don’t know if that’s the right kind (of feminism), but really I don’t even care,” she said. “We want women to have roles that are meaningful. We don’t need plays anymore where women just exist to be people’s wives.”

Poisson said she knows how to work with writers/actors, and the process for “Happy, Happy, Happy” has been meeting Ruzumna and Every as writers during the day and as actors during rehearsal.

“Part of the reason I felt good about bringing this project on is that Lisa and Jenn came to me and said, ‘Listen, we’re not precious about most things,’” Poisson said. “They’re very amenable, and that’s not to say that they don’t throw down if they believe in something being a certain way. Really it’s about trust. I think we trust each other implicitly.”

“For me, she’s such a cheerleader for other women’s work,” Every said. “She works hard. She loves new plays. She loves shepherding them and making them happen. We’re just super fortunate that she’s working with us.”