Review: ‘Happy Now?’

'Happy Now?'

"Is this it?" asks the leading character of her midpoint life in "Happy Now?," Lucinda Coxon's smart and sardonic gal-play receiving its American preem at Yale Rep. Following a heralded run at London's National Theater earlier this year, the play should have a healthy life Stateside, where audiences, especially women, can see themselves reflected on stage in the do-it-all, have-it-all wife-mother-professional woman and her clan.

“Is this it?” asks the leading character of her midpoint life in “Happy Now?,” Lucinda Coxon’s smart and sardonic gal-play receiving its American preem at Yale Rep. Following a heralded run at London’s National Theater earlier this year, the play should have a healthy life Stateside, where audiences, especially women, can see themselves reflected on stage in the do-it-all, have-it-all wife-mother-professional woman and her clan.

Kitty (Mary Bacon) is examining her middle-aged, middle-class life, as do most of the characters here with various degrees of honesty. “You can’t see what’s coming,” she says to her husband in a moment of unraveling. But the audience can from the first scene. It’s familiar post-feminist turf, but as envisioned by Brit scribe Coxon in an impeccable production helmed by Liz Diamond, it’s surprisingly fresh even when the themes are not.

Perhaps it’s in the spot-on perfs, the sly writing or the delicious details of the production. There are abundant moments where the shock of recognition is startlingly true, funny and sad, whether it’s in the petty arguments between husbands and wives, the manipulation of aging parents or the disintegration of friends’ relationships.

At first glance, Kitty seems to be a well-adjusted contemporary Londoner, adept at multitasking, no pushover for an easy come-on and assured, as well as assertive, at home and away. But scratch her surface — as well as these other characters as they drive deeper into adulthood and mortality — and, as the Rolling Stones’ song used in the production goes, “You can’t always get what you want.”

It’s not for want of trying, as Kitty finds her life is more complicated than any pop song — or sitcom. Her family includes two demanding kids and sometimes sensitive, sometimes oblivious husband Johnny (Kelly AuCoin), who followed his bliss by dropping out of a high-powered law career to be a public school teacher.

Kitty has additional pressures at work as well as from her parents. Her divorced father is going through one medical crisis after another, while her delusional, passive-aggressive mother (Joan MacIntosh in wonderful maternal-martyr mode) chips away at Kitty’s self-image. (“Turned out for you well, hasn’t it?” Mom asks with a withering mixture of doubt and reproach.)

Kitty doesn’t get much relief from her circle of friends. Miles (Quentin Mare) is a nasty prick who needles his cool, less-than-brilliant wife, Bea (Katharine Powell), while gay friend Carl (Brian Keane) compares and contrasts his new relationship with the unsatisfying lives of the hetero couples.

A proposition from skirt-chasing colleague Michael (David Andrew MacDonald) at a professional conference sends Kitty’s mind down a road in search of an exit ramp. “Why don’t men kiss their wives?” asks Michael, not so innocently. (Is it possible to be sleazy, grounded and utterly charming at once? MacDonald makes it so.)

The wit, intelligence and not-so-easy examination of the question of what the hell is happiness anyway keeps the play lively over its two hour-plus length. But the delights are in the symbolic specifics: finding just the right color to paint a room; how repositioning the commas in a sentence can change its point of view; Kitty’s bedraggled childhood doll Cindy, “like Barbie — but cheaper.”

Bacon plays Kitty’s unsteady state with a delicate mix of humor, insight and sympathy, keeping her emotional balloon aloft while adding or subtracting just the right amount of air. AuCoin as her husband nicely shows that it’s not just Kitty’s midlife crisis, either. Mare, Powell and Keane all do well as the friends with their own imperfect and disappointing lives.

Production looks and sounds sharp, especially Sarah Pearline’s set, which creates a limbo-like world that seems to be in a slightly surreal and suspended state.

Happy Now?

Yale Repertory Theater, New Haven, Conn.; 480 seats; $65 top

Production

A Yale Repertory Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Lucinda Coxon. Directed by Liz Diamond.

Creative

Sets, Sarah Pearline; costumes, Heidi Hanson; lighting, Matt Frey; sound, David Budries; stage manager, Amanda Spooner. Opened, reviewed Oct. 30, 2008. Runs through Nov. 15. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast

Michael - David Andrew MacDonald Kitty - Mary Bacon Johnny - Kelly AuCoin Miles - Quentin Mare Bea - Katharine Powell June - Joan MacIntosh Carl - Brian Keane
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