In Happy Now? by Lucinda Coxon, now playing at Mill Valley's Marin Theatre Company, a modern woman with "everything"—great job, nice home, loving husband, the right number of children— discovers that "everything" isn't everything it's cracked up to be. Kitty (Rosemary Garrison) is swiftly climbing the ladder at the cancer-fighting charity she works for, successfully putting on a confident exterior, while inside she is beginning to crack under the pressure of perfection.
Her husband, Johnny (Alex Moggridge), is working his way down the ladder, having recently given up a profitable career as a lawyer to pursue his love of teaching high school English. Johnny's best friend, Miles (a brilliant Mark Anderson Phillips), is a self-destructive alcoholic with a mean-streak and a wife (Mollie Stickney) on the verge of throwing him out. Kitty's sassy gay friend Carl (well drawn by Kevin Rolston) is suffering through his latest heartbreak while managing to stay strong and supportive for Kitty as she deals with her elderly divorced parents, one of whom appears to be dying (he's in the hospital with a ruptured aorta), while her mother is merely pretending to be dying.
Still, Kitty's handcrafted façade of satisfaction and happiness is straining under the pressure, and it receives an unexpected fracture when she meets Michael at a conference. Played by Andrew Hurteau with a dazzling blend of unctuous sleaziness and weirdly appealing straightforwardness, Michael is the play's best creation. Overweight and plainly ridiculous, the married Michael has found a way to turn his unthreatening demeanor into a successful hobby as a womanizer.
"The trick is there is no trick," he explains in the opening scene, after Kitty has deflected his initial attempt at hotel bar seduction. "I'm an out-of-shape clown," he says. "I'm safe. Women feel good with me because I'm not a tit man or a leg man—I'm a woman man."
Though Kitty avoids Michael's lecherous clutches, there's something about the guy that gets under her skin. Yet when she runs into him later, and he appears not to remember her, her confidence begins to shatter, along with the various marriages, careers and dreams of all of her friends and acquaintances.
Some of the writing is quite clever. Coxon's chief strength is writing snappy dialogue. As a storyteller, however, Coxon shows a lack of constraint. There are far too many tangential bits, so many so that Kitty's struggle for have-it-all happiness begins to look less like the central focus of the play and more like a side story in Coxon's existential, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink data dump. The direction by Jasson Minadakis is incredibly strong, with excellent use of the four projection screens worked seamlessly into Melpomene Katakalos' sleek set. The way he stages the transitions from scene to overlapping scene is so clever and elegant—with one scene lingering a bit as the next begins—one has to wonder why it's not done like this more often.
For all its strengths, there is a lingering dullness to the play, a feeling of redundancy and staleness. In the end, Happy Now? is a play that attempts to address universal issues—issues it does occasionally glance at—but in the end, this unexceptional comedy has nothing original to say about them.
'Happy Now' runs Tuesday&–Sunday through Dec. 5 at Marin Theatre Company. Show times vary. 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. $33&–$57. 415.388.5208.