A few years ago, New York magazine offered the somewhat unsurprising statistic that parents are far less happy than their nonparent peers. British playwright Lucinda Coxon shares this same news in Happy Now?, a 2008 work receiving its Chicago premiere. In an early scene, a “gay friend” describes the fun and transcendence of his weekend to two married-with-children couples, whose weekends included TV watching, kid transporting and (not enough) sleeping.
With intriguing scenic design and dynamic staging, Shattered Globe’s production is impressive. But it’s hard not to be occasionally annoyed by Coxon’s take on middle-class marriage—including her decision, albeit practical, to keep the children offstage; they seem to have little effect on the life of protagonist Kitty (the excellent Christina Gorman). Long before intermission, the title’s question can be answered succinctly: no. Still, it’s unclear why Coxon needs to indict working women. No one here is happy—not the gay friend, not the divorced dad, not Kitty’s aging, hypochondriac mother. Could it be that happy is the wrong adjective?
This utterly derisive take on bourgeois life is delivered with a few laughs and fewer surprises. The strongest bits come at beginning and end, when Kitty encounters Michael (a charming Ben Werling) at a professional conference. He offers her no-strings-attached sex; she’s clearly intrigued, continuing to think about him and this symbolic opportunity to escape her “one and only life.” This is where Coxon’s script feels spot-on, taking on larger questions of longing and desire. When Kitty asks her husband, Johnny (Steve Peebles), “Is this my life?” her sense of bewilderment and despair echoes universally.