Can a woman really have it all? The answer, according to Lucinda Coxon’s play Happy Now? in performances at the 59E59 Theaters, is a resounding “no.” Coxon’s play, which centers around a middle-aged working mother named Kitty (Mary Bacon), attempts to provide a thoughtful introspection into the numerous pressures of being a modern woman. Unfortunately, it stumbles sadly upon this journey and instead serves up a scattered, haphazard portrait of upper-middle class urban life. Were it in the hands of a less-talented cast, this play would be truly disappointing, but when performed by such a talented group, it proves to be an engaging, if slightly disheartening look at the challenges faced by women every day.
Kitty is frazzled, to say the least. Her job at a nonprofit cancer research institute is demanding, and she is the primary breadwinner since her husband (Kelly AuCoin), who never kisses her anymore, left his corporate litigation job to be a public school teacher. Her children are disobedient and her friends’ marriage is collapsing in front of her eyes. Her estranged father is hospitalized in a nearby town, forcing Kitty to spend nights at her mother’s house, listening to her rake her father across the coals. So one might say Kitty is stretched a little thin. Or, as she explains in a dignified, British way, she feels a bit “unsteady.”
The play opens with a meeting between Kitty and Michael (C.J. Wilson), as they meet at a conference. He promptly makes a pass at her, which she indignantly rebuffs, causing him to launch into a monologue about how, one day, she will think of him and wonder if he still “wants to be nice to her.” Michael is married, but he has no qualms about cheating on his wife, even though he says his family is the most important thing to him. This contradictory character is played to perfection by Wilson, who manages to be callous and charming simultaneously.
The play then cuts to Kitty’s home, where her children refuse to stop watching television in order to eat dinner and her husband appears more worried about his students’ misuse of the comma than how Kitty’s conference went. When the pair have friends over for dinner – Johnny’s alcoholic friend Miles (Quentin Mare) and his distant, distracted wife Bea (Kate Arrington) and Kitty’s gay best friend Carl (Brian Keane)- the wine flows freely, as do the complaints. Kitty is so busy trying to put the children to bed before her friends arrive she doesn’t even have time to put shoes on. They laugh about the sad state of their lives, but the discontent is so apparent it is almost tangible.
But Kitty’s stress doesn’t stop there. Her parents want too much from her as well. Her stays with her mother are less than peaceful, to say the least. Even though they divorced 20 years ago, she still won’t answer the phone, just in case it’s him calling. Her boss is sick, ironically, with cancer, causing her to take on even more work, which she can’t do at home because Miles’ wife left him and he’s sleeping on the couch in her study.
The desire to watch these events take place onstage may seem odd, when so many of us are facing them in our own lives and seek escape in entertainment, but there is a real satisfaction elicited from witnessing this topic being addressed in such an honest manner and by such a talented cast. Kitty’s ability to balance her life is admirable, and her frustration is understandable. While many of the scenes could be shortened, and the use of electronics is completely unnecessary, the hart of the play is authentic – perhaps a bit too much so.
Questioning the meaning behind marriage and family and the stereotypical dream of most people is not an easy thing to do, regardless of the medium. The script goes overboard at times and is much too long,; a good 20 minutes could easily be shaved off of the ending, especially an unnecessary scene between Kitty and Bea. But regardless of its flaws, Happy Now? elicits a real satisfaction that this topic is being addressed in such a sincere way. We hope Kitty figures out how to do it all, and if she does, we hope she lets us in on the secret.