BRATTLEBORO -- The pursuit of happiness.
Sounds great on paper, but it’s a little more devilish in the details ... and it’s great grist for the curious mind and comedic, theatrical skills of Seth Lepore.
In his newest one-man show, Lepore examines America’s obsession with and commoditization of happiness. "SuperHappyMelancholyexpialidocious" peels apart what he calls "the happiness industry" to find the truths and the falsehoods in the positive thinking movement.
"I’m wondering why we feel that we need to be happy in a particular way. We’re all so different," said Lepore. "I want to bring to light and to question why do we buy into these things and why do they work?"
Lepore doesn’t pretend he has the answers, but he does want people to think a bit about their approaches to happiness -- in an entertaining way.
"I’m trying to get people to laugh, but also wonder ‘Why was that funny?’" he said. "I personally feel that we shouldn’t be happy all the time."
Lepore will perform "SuperHappyMelancholyexpialidocious" as part of the Double Trouble Tour on Friday and Saturday, April 6, 7, 13 and 14, at 8 p.m., at the Hooker-Dunham Theater, 139 Main St. The tour also features a new one-man show by Collin Chace, a high school friend of Lepore’s.
"SuperHappyMelancholyexpialidocious" is the second in what Lepore envisions as a trilogy of one-man shows
In "SuperHappyMelancholyexpialidocious," Lepore inhabits 20 characters as he brings the audience to a Texas megachurch-turned-motivational-hothouse and to Oprah’s Book Club for the latest testament of self-actualization. He introduces us to all kinds of hapy folks, from the guy who has a show called "Matriarchy/Patriarchy"; to a couple who runs a workshop called "Addicted to Unhappiness"; to the relentless happy platitude-spouting grocery store clerk who drives you nuts, as well as to other poster children for the happiness industry. He balances these characters with real examinations of his own journeys through depression to happiness.
He said he researched his characters by "watching a lot of infommericials." He was also inspired by Barbara Ehrenreich’s book "Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America."
Lepore’s got nothing against happiness, but he just wants people to question how they go about it.
"I think happiness is great. I think everyone’s got to be in a place in their life where it really works for them," he said. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Part of our history is based on getting a lot of stuff and being materialistic. It’s crazy."
Lepore said he and Chace cooked up the Double Trouble Tour when they realized this year would be their 20th high school reunion. Instead of suffering through the reunion, they decided to do a tour instead.
"We were noticing we were on the same trajectory in our careers," Lepore said.
Like Lepore, the London-based Chace creates multiple characters to examine particular issues. Chace’s subject matter is a little different -- in this case, mental health.
In Chace’s "Rock N Wrestle Roadshow," folks ranging from a potty-mouthed heiress to an 8 year-old poet to an American civil rights leader-turned-British tube station announcer have been released from a mental health ward. Rejoining the outside world with their new perspectives on race relations, gay marriage, war and the big issues of our time, Chace gives voice to people who’ve been written off as deranged, and affirms them as essential voices for social change.
"He’s showing these characters that are being pushed off to the side. He’s giving the spotlight to people who are the dregs of society," said Lepore. "I feel like we’re doing social justice work through theater."