Everyone wants what he or she cannot have, especially when it comes to love. Single men and women, eager to find lasting love, envy friends in relationships. But these same friends in relationships oftentimes covet the freedom and unpredictability of being single, particularly when their love begins to sour. When it comes down to it, being in love can be terrible, and being alone can be worse. At least in the hands of Jason Mantzoukas and Jessica St. Clair, a comedy team described by some as a modern-day Gracie Allen and George Burns or Elaine May and Mike Nichols, the miserable underbelly of love also proves hilarious.
The duo, whose last show, I Will Not Apologize, was featured at HBO's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, has teamed up once again for We Used to Go Out at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. The result is a laugh-out-loud look at the breakdown of a relationship.
Playing themselves in a Curb Your Enthusiasm sort of way, Jason and Jessica are a couple on the brink of a breakup. We Used to Go Out focuses on that time when both parties know it is over but stay together anyway because, well, it is the evil you know versus the evil you do not know. From spicing it up a bit (with a lesbian couple Jason finds on the Internet) to learning how to please your man properly (let's just say there is flicking and clapping—Jessica's "signature move"—involved), the show is an unapologetically vulgar look at the lengths people take to make everything O.K.
But the many attempts to save their relationship fail, and Jessica and Jason do end their relationship over a nasty exchange of answering-machine messages. But as bad as they thought their love life was, single life proves to be even more pitiful. Jason, wearing three-week-old sweatpants (Jessica threw his clothes out on the street, and most were taken by a homeless man), comes crawling back to her, only to find out she has fallen for a ne'er-do-well named Scooter, also played by Mantzoukas. To Jason, this is not a name but "a mode of transportation," which only adds insult to injury.
This show is nothing new—anyone who has been through a painful breakup, or has endured being single after a painful breakup, can relate, and yet it feels entirely fresh. Mantzoukas and St. Clair have a chemistry, even during their most off-color moments, that most real couples would envy. They are bold and wonderful comics who take ordinary and rather depressing material and repackage it in a totally spontaneous way.
Mantzoukas's charming nature and quick wit are very appealing. And considering the way things end up for Jason, women who have trouble separating the character from the actor will surely want to help heal his wounds. He plays not only Jason and Scooter but also Peggy, Jessica's rather manly best friend, and he could easily steal the show from a lesser stage presence. But St. Clair holds her own. Even at her most vulgar, she draws empathy and speaks to the confused woman inside many of us. She also bares a striking resemblance to Rachel McAdams, which makes a surprising scene involving, of all things, the movie The Notebook (in which McAdams starred) all the more hilarious.
We Used to Go Out is 50 minutes and $5 well spent. No matter how bad your love life might be, you will leave realizing that it could always be a lot worse, which, to my mind, is priceless.