“Happy Now?” the newest production of the Yale Repertory Theater, is sure to be a knockout. The show, which begins previews Oct. 24 and opens Oct. 30, boasts an all-star cast including Mary Bacon, Kelly Aucoin and Brian Keane and is directed by Liz Diamond, Director in Residence of the Rep and chair of the directing department at the Drama School. This production is the American premiere and only the second performance ever of Lucinda Coxon’s work, which debuted at the National Theater in London earlier this year.
Bacon, making her Yale Rep debut, stars as Kitty, a woman just on the brink of middle age, trying to balance a full-time job with small children as her life and everything she knows slowly implodes around her. When I met with Bacon as well as director Diamond over coffee, I received the perspective from the other side of the stage.
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The play deals with the process of a person’s “becoming,” defining what she will do with her life. At the inception, Kitty is nearing the end of this process. Her sense of limitless potential for her life narrows. In Diamond’s words, “Kitty is at that moment where she is discovering that [this narrowing] has happened without her noticing.” What makes this play so applicable to life and to us, both Bacon and Diamond assert, is the centrality of this issue — and the questions it raises — to our insecurities: How do we know what the right life is? How do we extricate ourselves from the one we’re leading? Is this extrication even possible?
Both Diamond and Bacon commended the play for its honesty.
“It honors something very true about human beings — we measure success and failure in the eyes of our peer group,” Diamond said.
This is the epitome of Kitty’s experience as she views her own life in relation to the lives of her friends, Miles (Quentin Mare), Bea (Katharine Powell) and Carl (Keane).
Diamond’s face lit up as she discussed what attracted her to the piece. “I love to laugh. I thought it was drop-dead funny and funny-smart,” she recounted. But despite the comedic aspects, Diamond acknowledged the play’s haunting side: “It is dark and deeply sad at times.” This dichotomy persists throughout the play, whose unexpectedly sitcom-esque scenes are balanced with jarring moments of tragedy.
Bacon touched on this, too, saying “it kind of feels like a ‘Friends’ episode, but if you stick with it, it becomes real, just real.” Bacon also mentioned the uncertainty prevalent in the piece, but, she said, this uncertainty only adds to the overall honesty of the work. “[Kitty] says ‘I don’t know’ about a million times in the play … I think everyone’s lives are like that.”
As for the production itself, Diamond said the play will keep developing even after rehearsals end.
“Every play needs marinating,” she said. “There’s nothing like letting a play run.”
But one thing is certain: The production will have no worries about its cast, which Diamond calls “a lovely, generous and smart bunch of people.” She equates their support for one another to that of athletes on a team — they are there for each other day in, day out. The close-knit bonds of the actors seem to have been forged long before the play went into rehearsals on Sept. 22, and in fact, much of the cast had either worked together or been friends previously. This camaraderie, combined with the adoration that each actor feels for his role, leads to a true ensemble show.
As our much-extended cup of coffee came to an end, Diamond said, “I hope I get to talk to younger spectators. I can imagine a student … thinking about dramas in their own parents’ lives, being in the position of a child, and I can imagine them reacting as they anticipate or think about their own futures.”
It is the potential of this play to affect people on such a broad spectrum and touch them in a deeply personal way that makes it so intriguing. With so many complex characters and so many levels, “Happy Now?” will, at the very least, leave the spectators asking themselves, “Am I really happy now?”