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“How to Transcend a Happy Marriage” satirizes couples’ attempts to be cool

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By Lucy Komisar

Sarah Ruhl satirizes a midlife crisis that turns two ordinary and apparently happy couples in their forties to group sex. They have been inspired by a three-some of 20-somethings and think they might be missing something. So they fall into a pretty joyless ménage à quatre. It’s funny, if not profound. And the cast is fine as schmoozy, nice folks getting into trouble with their “what are we missing that the young folks have?”

Omar Metwally as Paul, Marisa Tomei as George, Lena Hall as Pip, Austin Smith as David, and David McElwee as Freddie, photo Kyle Froman.

Ruhl adds some riffs about nature, vegetarianism, killing animals and the discovery that fantasies that come from group thinking may create real world problems. Director Rebecca Taichman handles the show tongue-in-cheek, so you know this adult fantasy is not really happening.

The adults are being inspired by Pip (Lena Hall), a sort of punk flower child, and her companions David (Austin Smith) and Freddie (David McElwee) who seem like the kind of guys who lay around and pretend they are cool. All in their 20s moving to 30s without having accomplished much.

The carcass of a deer hangs in the living room. Pip, a former vegetarian now slaughters goats. But there is still guilt over animal killing.

George, short for Georgia (Marisa Tomei), asks Pip, “The first time you killed deer…What was it like?” Pip replies more like a housewife than a hunter: “She lasted the whole winter. If you opened my refrigerator, it might seem really gross.”

Segue to guilt over sex. We are celebrating polyamorous women and learn that the fun of adultery is the erotic tension around the secret.

Marisa Tomei as George and Lena Hall as Pip, photo Kyle Froman.

And then there’s the inconvenience of being a normal family. Jenna (Naian González Norvind), the daughter of Jane (Robin Weigert) and Michael (Brian Hutchison), both in their 40s, is shocked and dresses them down (apt choice of words) when she arrives home after a boring party to see her mother completely undressed. She will run away.

After doing the sex part, the middle-aged ladies are really getting into nature; they go out with bows and arrow. George shoots a deer. She gets arrested: “I didn’t know you needed a permit.” Except it turns out she has killed a dog. Tomei is perfect as a naïf desperate to be trendy: “I’m worried. Paul will hate me for being in jail.”

Jenna has taken refuge at the home of a friend who’s in the Christian Alt Right.

George, declaring “we had a massive sevensome,” is corrected by Paul, “No George. We had a massive foursome.” They consider that they might have to disguise their animal natures.

But it doesn’t end all badly. Jenna’s story of her parents’ behavior gets her into Bennington.

How to Transcend a Happy Marriage.” Written by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Rebecca Taichman. Lincoln Center at Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, 150 West 65th Street, New York City. 212 239-6200. Opened March 20, 2017; closes May 7th, 2017. 5/2/17.