By Geary Danihy

Hamlet and his mom, Lear and his daughters, Macbeth and his wife. Oh, the angst-filled interaction; Oh, the delightful dysfunction – hard to live with it and certainly hard to write a play without it.

Following up on last season’s The Evildoers, an intense, macabre and, in the end, incoherent take on modern relationships by David Adjmi, Yale Repertory Theatre once again ventures into the realm of marriages peopled by the emotionally halt, lame and blind with Lucinda Coxon’s Happy Now?, and although there are no tongues on the stage this time around, blood does flow.

Coxon, little known in the Colonies, has been a force of sorts in British theater

is, as explained in the program notes by James Brady, the Rep’s artistic director, an opportunity for “America to discover this bracingly funny new play.”

Well, the play is funny, at times, but bracing? Well, I imagine that is in the distracted eye of the beholder, for what we have here is the stuff of 80s and 90s sitcoms, young couples searching for balance as they interact with other couples off on the same quest, with the basic messages being “Marriage is hard work” and the concomitant “Marriage constrains,” staged as if it was written by Wagner.

Happy Now? is drawing-room dyspepsia acted out on a stage that is altogether too large and open to adequately conjure the hothouse nature of the marriages and relationships that are the play’s subject. The set, by Sarah Pearline, relies on sofas and tables rising from the floor and a back-bar, hotel mirror and a nightstand (that never descends) descending. The overall effect of the set is to diminish the characters, an effect enhanced by Matt Frey’s lighting, featuring deep shadows and an oft-appearing, iridescent green EKG read-out that spikes across the stage when the couples are having trouble and deadlines when a relationship is going under.

Played in a more intimate setting, Happy Now? might well be devastating, for the writing is intimate, intense and often dead-on as regards the “little murders” couples commit as they attempt to find their way, and the cast is superlative.

The play’s main focus is Kitty (Mary Bacon), a much-put-open mother of two who is trying to balance career and family as her husband, Johnny (Kelly AuCoin),

attempts to find himself in a second career as a teacher. Their friends and families are also sailing on tempestuous seas. Miles (Quentin Mare) and Bea (Katharine Powell) rely on alcohol and redecorating to calm the waters, Carl (Brian Keane) has a male lover 20 years his junior and June (Joan MacIntosh), Kitty’s mother, has made a career out of being the “divorced wife.”

Coxon understands the nature of the relationships she limns in the play, and there are some absolutely wonderful lines, chief amongst them Miles’ response to Bea when she threatens him with separation if he utters one more demeaning comment about her. In a “go ahead and do it” moment, Miles pauses, sips his drink, then turns to Bea and says, “If women were dominos, you’d be the double blank.” End of marriage.

The connective thread in all of this is Kitty’s relationship with Michael (David Andrew MacDonald), a lounge lizard with a heart of gold whom she meets at a convention. He is an angst-free philanderer who hits on Kitty early in the first act and releases her soul in the second act in a post-non-coital moment of intimacy following a delightful, sexually charged pillow fight.

Happy Now is not Hamlet, King Lear or Macbeth, but it is an engaging, arch and insightful play that has been ill-served by a production team that apparently thought it was dealing with Parsifal when, in fact, Coxon has written an edgy, humorous folk song.

Happy Now? runs through Saturday, Nov. 15. For tickets or more information call 432-1234 or go to www.yalerep.org. To learn what other critics think of the show or to see what is playing at theaters throughout Connecticut, go to www.ctcritics.org.

This review originally appeared in The Norwalk Citizen News.

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