At the top of the show, David Kessler admits that he has a problem: He cries too much. Tears of every emotion at just about any occasion, but especially at weddings. Little does the audience know, Kessler and the rest of what he calls “Team Happiness” have perfected a dark ritual called One Mutual Happiness that will free Kessler of his curse and pass his tears to the audience.
One Mutual Happiness tells two true stories from Kessler’s life: His many performances as a wedding officiant and the death of his father. Kessler begins the show a little scripted, maybe even forced, but, by the time his father first comes up, he lets flow a river of love and appreciation for every individual mentioned in the show. With it, he washes away the pains of grief and intolerance, as well as any doubt that he is less than 100% earnest.
But Kessler is not alone. Not even on stage. Throughout the performance, Rich O’Meara plays live music that he also composed. It ranges from an invigorating marimba to a baroque reinterpretation of the Simpsons theme song, but he mostly plays ephemeral pieces that provide a moving complement to Kessler’s words.
Director and dramaturg Jennifer Knight knows when to pull O’Meara’s music back to let Kessler speak unaided, but also when to let O’Meara off his leash.
Occasionally, Kessler has to compete with O’Meara to be heard and keep the attention, but he rises to that challenge every time and the theater fills with energy from two talented performers operating in perfect sync. Early on, the two have a delightful scuffle over a drum, just to make clear that neither is taking themselves too seriously.
The show describes two untimely deaths, one prolonged and the other shockingly quick. In the face of both of these, there is a real, palpable rage. One Mutual Happiness recognizes grief, just as it recognizes the struggles of the mixed religion, mixed race, and same gendered couples whose stories provide an unfaltering return to life and love.
One Mutual Happiness
Written and performed by David Kessler
Details and tickets
At times, wedding photos and those of the departed are projected, thanks to light, set, and projection designer Joe Musumeci. Thankfully, the projection is used sparingly and so has a great impact. When it isn’t showing photos, it becomes a beautiful, colorful backdrop that echoes One Mutual Happiness’s philosophy. A longer montage during the finale has a few pixelated and poorly cropped images, but overall the projection’s effect is overwhelmingly positive.
Likewise, Musumeci’s lights provide smooth transitions that effortless escort the audience as Kessler moves between weddings and hospitals, over months and months of his life. It is a wonder how well Knight and her team keep the audience on-track as the story unfolds.
One Mutual Happiness is a tear-jerker. Tears of sadness and anger and grief, yes, but mostly joy and gratitude. And yet that jerk Kessler pulls it off without breaking down, while the audience fights a flood. It must be magic.
One Mutual Happiness. Written and Performed by David S. Kessler. Directed by Jennifer Knight. Music Written and Performed by Rich O’Meara. Produced by Uncle Funsy Productions. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.