“Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” questions the norms of romantic comedy

by Laura Casado

Via The Three Tomatoes

“Laugh It Up, Stare It Down,” a play written by Alan Hruska, begins like any other romantic comedy: full of romantic gestures and sweeping emotional declarations. It is singular, however, is in its aberrance from the fairytale ending.

When bachelor Joe hails Cleo on the street, interpreting their fortuitous meeting as a crossroads that will produce “ecstatic love,” the audience relaxes into a pleasant (and resigned) expectancy of the show’s progression. Yet this comfort is not long-lived; scenes are fast-forwarded erratically from Cleo and Joe’s first sexual encounter to surprise pregnancy, marriage and adultery. Rather than a solitary shock-inducing climax, the play consists more realistically of a series of ups and downs speckled with moments of joy. This discordant medley ranges from their baby getting lost at the hospital to bargaining casually with a gun-toting burglar to Cleo confronting her best friend about sleeping with Joe.

This production demonstrates the inconsistency of social opinion towards infidelity when it has been committed by a husband versus by his wife, and whether it is feasible to forgive and forget in such a supposedly committed relationship. It highlights the growth of Cleo and Joe’s characters in almost opposite directions: Cleo initially withdrew from Joe’s physical advances, but by the end of the play, she nonchalantly asks for her husband’s blessing to hook up with their foreign tour guide. Joe’s initial brazen attitude turns sour as Cleo experiments more with her sexuality. This discordant tension continues throughout the show’s ambiguous ending, ultimately leaving the audience unsatisfied. Regardless, “Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” succeeds as a thought-provoking play by play of life as we know it, yet so often fail to truly see.

“Laugh It Up, Stare it Down” is playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre on 38 Commerce St. until October 10.

Laura Casado is a Contributing Writer. Email her at theater@nyunews.com

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