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A CurtainUp Review
Happy Now?


You know you're everything to me.— Johnny
I'm everything to everyone. Sometimes I get excited at the thought of being nothing to someone for twenty minutes.—Kitty.
Happy Now
Mary Bacon as Kitty
(Photo: James Leynse)
If you're among those who are occasionally tempted to shed a tear for the lack of respect given to the nuances of punctuation, you're bound to welcome a play that includes a brief lesson on the importance of a well-placed comma. Lucinda Coxon's Happy Now? not only includes such a lesson but that lesson can be seen as one aspect of good writing as a means of bringing fresh nuance to a basically familiar story.

Fortunately, Primary Stages has given Coxon's play a New York production that's smartly directed, performed and staged. While the setting remains London and the accents British (authentically so, thanks to dialect coach Pamela Prather), this tale of a modern woman's problems with finding happiness in having it all is universal.

Mary Bacon, who's performances on Broadway (Rock 'n Roll) and Off-Broadway (Eccentricities of a Nightinggale, The Late Christopher Beene) have gone from strength to strength, adds another winning portrayal to her resume as Kitty, Coxon's stressed-out Everywoman. Kitty's husband Johnny (Kelly AuCoin, convincingly sincere yet stuck in an insensitive macho male mindset) is a very decent, socially responsible guy. He's left a highly paid corporate law job to become a teacher in order to do something more meaningful even though less profitable. However, while he recognizes the enduring value of correctly used commas and apostrophes, he's yet to realize, or acknowledge, that his career change has not relieved Kitty from being in charge of most of the day to day family responsibilities, even as her job has becomes more demanding due to her boss's illness.

At forty (and looking much younger), Kitty is part of what used to be frequently referred to as "the sandwich generation." She must navigate not only between husband, demanding kids (present only as off-stage voices) and a career, but also ailing and extremely dysfunctional parents (a never seen constantly near death father and a monster of self-delusion mother, a deliciously odious Joan McIntosh). We thus have a situation of a woman having to be available to parents who were never much there for her and who lets working mother guilt turn her into something of a doormat for her demanding children. She's also frustrated that her husband's career change has not made the marriage more of an equal partnership with more communication and affection.

As if all the above weren't enough, there's the fallout from the marital travails of Kitty and Johnny's best friends — stay-at-home Bea and alcoholic, filled-with undefined rage Miles (the excellent Kate Arrington and Quentin Mare). No wonder Kitty finds herself feeling uncomfortably "unsteady," — a feeling intensified by Michael (A funny, likeable and surprisingly sensitive C. I. Wilson), an out of shape but practiced seducer she meets at one of the seminars that frequently take her out of town.

To round out the cast of characters there's Carl (Brian Keane), a gay lawyer and Kitty's best friend, who is having his own midlife crisis. All these characters could easily be stereotypes representing various viewpoints in a story that fits the middle class life at the crossroads genre. But Coxon's writing with its sharp dialogue and way of capturing the emotional depth underneath the daily banalities of life, make this something of a modern day variation on Ibsen's famously frustrated Nora which here involves two Noras who may or may not slam the door on their marriages.

The overlapping conversations and Coxon's razor sharp scene endings keep us engaged and make some of the most banal business amusingly real and watchable — for example, theres Kitty and John's visit to view Bea's color samples for redocating her and Miles' home, displayed as if they were an art exhibition. . .there are also the scenes that show Kitty suffering through her mother's neurotic claims for attention while waiting to hear about the state of her genuinely ill father. As for the additional interchanges with Michael the paunchy seducer. . .I won't tell you how they turn out, but rest assured it won't be quite what you expect.

Narelle Sissons' at once spare, elegant and strikingly complex set allows director Liz Diamond to move the actors back and forth between the play's multiple locations without any of the usual awkward prop changes. Coxon, while hardly as dour as Ibsen, wisely doesn't provide a neatly tied up cureall for Kitty's frustrations. In fact, as Johnny's sample sentence on his classroom chalkboard changes its meaning with the addition of two commas, so the question mark at the end of the title, leaves the future of Kitty and company intriguingly ambiguous and open to interpretation.

For more plot details see Lizzie Loveridge's review of the play's London premiere with a different cast and director here.

Happy Now? by Lucinda Coxon
directed by Liz Diamond
Cast: Kate Arrington (Bea), Kelly AuCoin (Johnny), Mary Bacon (Kitty), Brian Keane (Carl), Joan MacIntosh (June), Quentin Mare (Miles) and C.J. Wilson (Michael).
Set Design: Narrelle Sissons
Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller
Lighting Design: Matt Frey
Sound Design: David Budries
Projection Design: Jeff Sugg
Props: Faye Armon
Fight Director: B. H. Barry
Dialect Coach: Pamel Prather
Featured Music: " You Can't Always Get What You Want" by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
Stage Manager; Matthew Melchiorre
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission
Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues)
From 1/26/10; opening 2/09/10; closing 4/21/10.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 2/06 press performance
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