Lyric’s ‘Be Here Now’ asks: What price happiness?

From the left: Shani Farrell, Barlow Adamson, Samantha Richert and Katherine C. Shaver in “Be Here Now.” Photo:: Mark S. Howard

BOSTON – If you’ve never experienced joy, how do you know for sure you’re experiencing it?

And if is indeed unbridled happiness, how do you keep it going and to what lengths will you go to keep experiencing it?

Playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer pairs two damaged souls who will have to confront unexpected happiness and what it means about them in “Be Here Now,” the first live production at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston in 18 months.

Samantha Richert in “Be Here Now.” Photo: Mark S. Hoaward

Bari (Samantha Richert) is a professor and a doctoral candidate struggling to finish her dissertation on nihilism. The theme is “nothing matters” – and that seemingly includes the blockage when it comes to her dissertation.

From the first scene of the play – when she walks away shaking her head from the soothing instructions of a yoga instructor – we know she will be tough to reach.

We find she has lost her job and had to retreat to her small hometown in upstate New York, where she is working in a fulfillment center with young Luanne Cooper (Katherine C. Shaver), who has discovered the joys of sexting, and her aunt, Patty Cooper (Shani Farrell), who is hard outwardly, softer in practice, and who looks to the stars for guidance.

They spend their time removing “Made in China” tags from Buddha statues to fool unsuspecting customers.

On top of it all, Bari also can’t find a buyer for her parents’ home.

Patty and Luanne are concerned with Bari’s mental state, but Bari counters by poking holes in her co-workers’ “happiness” by pointing out that it may be medically induced.

Bari reluctantly agrees to meet Patty’s cousin Mike at a nearby pub. Very few locally-based actors have both the range and talent of Barlow Adamson, and the quirky but charming role of Mike Cooper is right in his wheelhouse.

Once an arranger of mergers and acquisitions, after an unspeakable personal tragedy he has retreated to a cabin in the woods with few possessions, where he recycles “found objects” – aka trash – and incorporates them into actual homes.

There are times when Laufer can’t resist gilding the lily a bit when it comes to Mike, such as having him winning a MacArthur “genius” grant. He is a talented but lost soul.

Oh, he also has a very intelligent pet crow named Hubble, which perhaps is another bit of quirkiness that wasn’t really needed.

Bari suffers from seizures and headaches that render her incapacitated for a period of time, but also – after one particularly harrowing episode — leave her with strange feelings that for the first time leave her hopeful and happy about the future, a future that may include Mike.

Richert manages to make her transformation believable enough as her newfound attitudes and feelings also start bringing Mike back to life, but at some point a life-or-death decision will have to be made, which may or may not impact her happiness.

The play’s hopeful message struck a chord with Lyric Stage Artistic Director Courtney O’Conner, who directed this production and suffered along with her colleagues the theater’s 534-day shutdown. In the program, she noted that during the first rehearsal for the play she experienced “a profound moment of joy and connection” and that “my world brightened and glowed anew with beauty, love and possibility.”

Four-time IRNE and Norton Award-winning set designer Janie E. Howland Howland has fashioned a versatile set that includes a series of metal frames, benches, shelves and chairs that move quickly and easily quickly to become tables, beds, and whatever else is needed.

The Lyric is also welcoming back sound designer/composer Dewey Dellay, lighting designer Karen Perlow and costume designer Rachel Padula-Shufelt to provide “Be Here Now” with strong production values.

The Lyric is part of a consortium of Greater Boston theaters asking that all theater-goers be masked and also provide either proof of vaccination or a recent Covid test upon entering the theater.

The intimate, welcoming Lyric Stage is back, and while “Be Here Now” may not be a perfect piece of work, its positive message is just right for our times and the charm and talent of its principals under O’Connor’s direction help paper over any shortcomings.

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston production of “Be Here Now.” Written by Deborah Zoe Laufer. Directed by Courtney O’Connor. At the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon St., Boston,, through Oct. 17.