Thursday, February 18, 2010

Modern-Day Dilemma


Happy Now?

A play by Lucinda Coxon

Directed by Liz Diamond

Starring Kate Arrington, Kelly AuCoin, Mary Bacon, Brian Keane, Joan MacIntosh, Quentin Mare, C.J. Wilson

Performances January 26-March 21, 2010

Primary Stages

59 East 59th Street

Kitty has never really thought about what whether she’s happy: she has her own career, a loving husband, lovely children and good friends. But she realizes that all that doesn’t necessarily equal true happiness.

That’s the crux of Happy Now?, Lucinda Coxon’s acidly funny examination of a middle-aged, upper middle-class woman’s bumpy road that’s pointed and interesting throughout. Coxon presents Kitty’s anything-but-simple life straightforwardly and empathetically. A spokeswoman for Cancer Concern, she’s often traveling. It’s at one of these out-of-town conferences that she meets Michael, a frumpy but strangely appealing guy whose matter-of-fact suggestion of an affair appeals to her after hitting dead ends with schoolteacher husband Johnny, who seems to care more about his best friend, the alcoholic Miles, who himself is unhappy with his wife Bea. There’s also Kitty’s mother June, who still hasn’t gotten over that Kitty’s (unseen) estranged father has left her for good.

So Kitty’s problems are standard stuff that we’ve seen in countless movies, TV shows and other plays. Yet Happy Now? is chockful of smart dialogue and tersely witty one-liners—many of them from the mouth of Carl, Kitty’s best friend who’s also the ubiquitous gay sidekick—that help camouflage a beating heart. Since these characters can seem annoying and unsympathetic at times, we sometimes throw up our hands: but Coxon deals with their problems so that they remain mature adults, even when they’re acting like children.

Director Liz Diamond’s fleetly-paced production consolidates Coxon’s barbed but heartfelt writing. The sense of harriedness on display in every aspect of Kitty’s life is cleverly visualized by Narelle Sisson’s shrewd design, as several workplaces and homes are jumbled together on the small, cramped set.

Diamond also molds frantic but controlled performances from Mary Bacon (Kitty), Kelly AuCoin (Johnny), Quentin Mare (Miles) and Kate Arrington (Bea), which go a long way toward legitimizing these people’s foibles. Both C. J. Wilson’s Michael and Brian Keane’s Carl happily avoid caricaturing their roles of the smooth-talking would-be seducer and the wisdom-dispensing homosexual friend. Too bad Joan MacIntosh didn’t follow their lead—her excessively mannered June harms the scenes between Kitty and her mother; indeed, the play’s least essential role could be excised completely without damaging an otherwise trenchantly comic character study.

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