PROVO — I’ve been wanting to see Little Happy Secrets for years. Now that I finally have, I was not disappointed. My hat is off to the cast and crew at the Echo Theatre for a stellar performance, and to Melissa Leilani Larson for her beautifully written script.
Little Happy Secrets follows BYU student Claire and her best friend/roommate Brennan when they both return from serving LDS missions. It becomes clear, as the two women recreate their friendship and as Brennan starts dating Carter, that Claire is in love with Brennan. Both women have been raised to believe that such feelings are wrong, so when the truth comes out, Claire quits school and retreats to her sister’s home. Brennan gets engaged, further separating the two friends until Brennan’s wedding essentially ends the relationship.
I was struck by the simplicity of this piece; instead of trying to add spectacle or action the director (Brighton Nicole Sloan) and the cast let the story speak for itself. That decision served the piece well; the story is fairly subtle, with the focus on how the characters are feeling rather than on what they are doing. So Sloan let the piece be, allowing for moments of silence and actors standing alone on stage instead of trying to fill space. The piece started and ended the same way; with Claire alone onstage talking about how she feels. All there was to focus on was the character and what she was feeling. There was nothing for her or me to hide behind and I loved the raw emotion I experienced throughout the production.
This piece is almost a one woman show; Claire (played by Jessica Myer) is often alone on stage, or the other characters are frozen as she talks. It takes a strong actress to be alone onstage so much, and Myers delivered. Despite spending a lot of time alone on stage talking to the audience, she held my attention. I could see in my mind’s eye what she was talking about, even though it wasn’t happening onstage. This was especially true at the end of the piece. Claire drives to Brennan’s wedding in Arizona, hoping to speak to her or stop her, and sees Brennan walk out of the temple with her husband. As Claire stood alone on the stage, describing how she sat in her car watching, I could see what she saw. I could feel the Arizona heat, could see the couple walking out of the temple doors to be greeted by their families, could see them posing for pictures. Myers transported me to where she was and what she was feeling with her honesty and dedication to the performance.
While this was Claire’s story, Myer had the support of very strong performers. Aubrey Reynolds (playing Brennan), Kevin O’Keefe (playing Carter) helped carry the simplicity and honesty of the piece. Brennan and Carter were in many ways the quintessential BYU couple. They started dating quickly and got engaged quickly, and did the standard kinds of dates. But Reynolds and O’Keefe kept the performance from becoming too stereotypical and unbelievable. Brennan had a strong personality and opinions; at one point she started yelling at Carter for throwing away an empty peanut butter jar instead of recycling it. I knew she cared about what she was saying, and that he didn’t understand it. It was the kind of fight most couples have. Carter was a bit full of himself, but I couldn’t help liking the guy. Claire did not like him and he tried so hard to change her opinion of him. At one point, after she tore a paper her wrote a paper he wrote apart, he came running into the room and hugged her, thanking her for helping him get a good grade. They were people I’d known in my time at BYU; I wanted them to be happy, just as I wanted Claire to be happy. The nuances of the characters put me in a difficult place as an audience because not everyone could be happy. I appreciated that I was left to determine my own feelings instead of having them determined for me by stereotypical performances.
Sloan chose to underscore the production with piano music, written and played by Julianna Boulter Blake. It reminded me of the underscoring of a film, with a slight difference. Instead of feeling like the music was telling me how to feel, I felt it was giving me permission to feel. The piece started on a heavy note with Claire giving the impression that she was telling a story that wasn’t going to have a happy ending. Then she switched gears and started to discuss some of the peculiarities of BYU. When that happened, the music changed to an almost circus-like mood. It gave me permission to laugh at some of the silliness Claire was describing. Because Little Happy Secrets is about the emotions of the characters, I thought the music was a good choice, and the compositions fit the moments perfectly.
The design of Little Happy Secrets followed the simple pattern set for the production. The set (designed by Daniel Whiting) consisted of a couch, a kitchen table and chairs. It became everything it needed to be, including the women’s apartment, Claire’s parents home, and the local restaurant Burger Supreme. The set allowed the play to run smoothly without long set changes. The lights (designed by Jaron Kent Hermansen) and costumes (designed by Becca Bailey Klepko) followed suit. The lights showed the audience where to look without being intrusive and the costumes created character without being distracting and helped to establish character from the beginning; Claire’s clothing was simple and casual like she cared more about comfort than style. Brennan looked more fashionable and she wore more bright colors because she was more outgoing.
The only thing that confused me about this piece was the props. Designed by Marc Alain Navez, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to when props where used and when they were pantomimed. Books and notebooks existed, but dishes didn’t. It looked like phones came and went. It was a bit distracting to wonder why a prop wasn’t there when another prop was.
I loved this production of Little Happy Secrets. It was so simple and poignant. I loved the honesty of the performers and what they were feeling. It is such an emotional piece and was handled so well by everyone involved. I would encourage everyone to take the opportunity to see this production.