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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Happy Now?
Yale Repertory Theatre

Happy Now?
David Andrew Macdonald and Mary Bacon
No, I wasn't exactly Happy Now?, but I felt fully engaged through crackling wit, sharp dialogue, innovative set design, and fine performances. This New Haven production is an American premiere of Lucinda Coxon's play. You, too, may fidget quite often, a fitting tribute since the subject matter is recognizable but the treatment fresh and inviting.

A quite contemporary Kitty (Mary Bacon) is a London-based woman who: is a senior executive at a cancer charity, tends to her divorced mother and father, fulfills her role as mother to two children and wife to husband Johnny (Kelly AuCoin), and eventually asks of herself and life, "Is this it?" As the play opens, she meets, at a conference, another involved in charity work. The man, Michael (David Andrew Macdonald), a bit ruffled but still handsome, will place his hand a bit above her knee since his obvious motive is to sleep with her. She rebuffs him—sort of.

Kitty takes the train home and playwright Coxon provides snapshots of her life by showing and telling us about her husband and friends. Johnny has chosen to relinquish his former position, which was financially viable, to teach school instead. Less money but greater fulfillment, he hopes. Attractive Bea (Katharine Powell) and Miles (Quentin Mare), a couple, arrive on the scene. Miles drinks all the time and Bea realizes that he no longer perceives, really, anything about her. He is dismissive and, no surprise, their union soon dissolves. Actor Brian Keane plays Carl, a gay man, who is reasonable, grounded and also one of Kitty's close confidants.  Still, Carl's relationship with a younger man is not destined to last forever. Kitty's mother, June (Joan MacIntosh), cannot see beyond herself ... call June self-absorbed.

I know. Forty-something wife, mother, worker, and true friend tries to cope, find meaning professionally and personally ... haven't we seen this too often, on the small and large screen, on stage? What about all of those novels?

Yes, the territory is familiar. But, Coxon's writing distinguishes her play and sets it positively apart. The first act opens as Michael appears, at a hotel bar, scene of a convention, and says, "So afterwards, he says to her, the guy says ... 'if I'd known you were a virgin, I'd've taken more time ...' Clever, catchy, a hook, this entices the theatergoer to take heed. It's sexy, funny, edgy, and an attention-getter. We are off.

Sarah Pearline's scenic design is unique—items seem to be hanging in suspension from the ceiling. Sitting high up in the orchestra, a theatergoer gets a full sense of the occasion.  An array of liquor bottles provides backdrop for Kitty and Michael at the outset. High above, there are items such a telephone and small lamp—to be utilized later on. It's all quite ingenious.

Liz Diamond, the splendid director whose credits at Yale Rep and in New York are numerous, provides quick pacing, and she's working with a group of top quality actors. The timing amongst them needs to be superb; otherwise, Happy Now? turns into just another situation comedy with a bit of tension tossed in for good measure. Instead, this play is quirky, dramatic and perceptive as it provides fitting question marks for anyone pondering the plight of a modernistic woman. How, indeed, does she achieve a balance? What about sexual temptation and potential excitement? And the future? Coxon does not provide answers but her brisk script surely accentuates conflict between actors and zeroes in upon Kitty's urgent dilemmas.

Happy Now? continues at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through November 15th. For ticket information, call (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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