“Happy Now?"

Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven

         --Irene Backalenick

In one old-time radio show, “Our Gal Sunday” asked the question: can an orphan girl from a poor mining town, married to a wealthy and titled Englishman, find happiness? We never got the answer, nor did poor little Sunday, because she was beset with new problems each week.

So, too, does the current British comedy/drama, now at Yale Rep, raise, and fail to resolve, the same question. The title itself, “Happy Now?”—complete with question mark--is a giveaway. Can these denizens of modern London ever find happiness?

In “Happy Now?” playwright Lucinda Coxon takes on a contemporary world—that of young successful Londoners. The central character is Kitty, who apparently has it all—husband, children, and a thriving career—but struggles with overload.

We Americans have already dealt with this question, thoroughly exploring it in fact and fiction—in print, on stage, on screen. But apparently the British, lagging behind, are just getting to it. Hence, “Happy Now?” arriving on American shores in an American production seems old hat, despite its recent success at the National Theatre in London.

Yet Coxon writes dialogue that is sharp, effective and often funny, which makes for good watching and for the “aha” reaction--at least in the first act. Essentially it is a feminist message, with the women seen as undermined and their husbands seen as unfeeling oafs. Kitty’s husband has quit the corporate world to become a teacher and have time with his family. But, once again, he gives work priority, and Kitty’s “needs are not met,” as she puts it. Their friends Miles and Bea offer a different takes on the marital-go-round. He is an alcoholic who patronizes his lower-class wife. It is only when Kitty meets Michael, an acknowledged womanizer, on a business trip, that she gets a sympathetic ear. But then Michael has an obvious agenda—to get Kitty into his bed. Only Carl, Kitty’s gay friend, is consistently portrayed as a caring male.

“Happy Now?” is all about the breakdown of communication—and the rarity of connection—in the modern world. Coxon makes that clear in the first act, but falters from that point on. Can it be that Coxon did not know how to end her play? The final act is full of wrong turns, uncertainties, and resignations, as scene after scene plays out. That may be life as it really is, but the play’s resolution is hardly satisfying emotionally or dramatically. “Happy Now?” ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.

Yet Liz Diamond directs the piece smoothly, as bright, cheery props drop from the ceiling to move the story fluidly from one short scene to the next. (Designer Sarah Pearline has created an unusual set that ably reflects Kitty’s fragmented world.) Diamond keeps the action moving at a sprightly pace, and the cast of seven (with Mary Bacon as Kitty, supported by David Andrew MacDonald, Kelly AuCoin, Quentin Mare, Katharine Powell, Brian Keane and Joan MacIntosh) turns in solid, believable performances.

This review appears in the Ct. Post and on the web site nytheaterscene.com

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