For a show about secrets, Little Happy Secrets is one of the most honest stories I’ve experienced. Little moments, little sighs, little glances into a world that ebbs and flows through the heartbreak of trying to reconcile ones love for God and self with ones love for another person.
Claire (Jessica Myer) and Brennan (Aubrey Reynolds), lifetime friends and roommates attending Brigham Young University couldn’t be closer. They grocery shop together, love Jane Austen and have both recently returned from serving Latter Day Saint (LDS) missions. Life is perfect, except for the fact that Claire has realized she has a secret she can’t tell anyone – she has deeper feelings for Brennan, feelings that are in direct contradiction to the teachings of the church she loves.
Her emotions are only compounded by the jealousy she feels when Brennan begins dating Carter (Kevin O’Keefe), who despite Claire’s desire to completely despise him “It wasn’t his fault I hated him,” is actually a pretty decent guy.
Little Happy Secrets, by Melissa Leilani Larson with direction by Brighton Nicole Sloan is a quiet show with surprising humor and a musical score (Julianna Boulter Blake) that servers to heighten and draw out the emotion that is quick to surface as Claire narrates her own story. Myer draws us into Claire’s world, often making eye contact with the audience as she explores her growing love for Brennan.
We travel with Claire during her awkward (and quite hysterical) first meeting and interactions with Carter (excellent direction in these scenes) as well as her difficult interactions with her sister (Heidi Smith Anderson). Our hearts break for those involved with loss in the silence of their tears and ponder Claire’s faith as she prays to her Father in Heaven. We are taken on a raw and emotional journey that leaves more questions than it does answers.
Larson’s script lands someplace between lyrical and reality. It draws you in with its natural rhythm and holds you engaged with a subtle sense of movement towards an ending we are not sure we want. Her characters are complicated, frustrating and charming in a way that begs honesty rather than empathy at times.
Sloan’s direction was strong and quiet, just like Larson’s characters and script. The story lies in the silences, the pauses and hesitations. Sloan allowed for these, played to the beautiful score and directed the movement and lighting (Jaron Kent Hermansen) to engage and pull us into this intimate part of Claire’s life.
The choice to have photos of the two girls framed and displayed on the set (Daniel Whiting) was beautifully punctuated by the starkness of the empty frames mixed in with the montage. The viewer was left wondering what moments were lost or never captured both from the past and going forward. And the costumes (Becca Bailey Klepko) differentiated each character in their own style, allowing for their personalities to be supplemented and heightened through their apparel.
My only critique would be to tighten up the delivered lines. There were several stumbled lines and while hesitations in some areas certainly lent to the uncertainty of the situation, there were times that it jarred me into the reality of observing a play rather than being lost in the moment.
The path of love for God, religion, family, friends and partners is complicated and riddled with a wide range of emotions. Add in two elements that are in direct contradiction, being gay and being Mormon and that path is bound to be painful. Little Happy Secrets is not happy, nor is it sad. There is a sense of longing, mourning and hope. It’s beautiful in its uncertainty and when writing, directing, acting, music and production come together it soars through the soul.
Little Happy Secrets is playing at The Echo Theatre in Provo through February 23, 2013. Tickets can be purchased online for $10-12.
Photo Credits: Jaron Kent Hermansen