Playwright Robert Caisley practices what he preaches. The Professor of Theatre & Film and Head of the Dramatic Writing Program at the University of Idaho has penned, Happy, a uniquely offbeat drama/comedy/satire now playing at Redtwist Theatre. Caisley defies the adage “some teach a thing; some do it.” His Happy is an 80 minute gem!
Happy looks at the life choices we make and asks: are we really happy or are we putting up a facade to convince ourselves and others that, indeed, we are happy? Caisley creates two stinging characters to probe his concept of ‘ happy.’ From their awkward meeting that finds Alfred (Michael Sherwin) entering his best friends apartment since the door was open. He is drenched by water from being splashed by a passing car. Upon entering the apartment, he is startled as Eva (Amanda Powell) emerges from the bathroom wearing only a towel.
From the start of their tense meeting Eva grills Alfred as she comments on his every utterance after getting him some dry clothing. She quizzes him about his life and his association with her lover Eduardo (Michael Kingston) offering sarcastic quips to Alfred’s answers. He nervously chuckles to Eva’s assaults. These early scenes are funny yet they contain sharp barbs. Example: Eva challenges, “I’m not happy? Do I look happy? I’ve been drinking gin all day.… I don’t know a single person who’s happy who isn’t high.”
Once Eduardo returns from a wine run, we see that Alfred and him are lifetime pals having shared many adventures together over the years. Eduardo is a self-employed arts while Alfred is a college professor teaching French literature. Alfred gave up his dream to be a writer upon marriage and the responsibilities of fatherhood to a special needs child. He puts on a ‘happy’ facade with a positive, look-for-the-good attitude about life. He positive thinking is echoed by is always cheerful wife Melinda (Melonie Collmann).
As the four eat dinner, the drinks flow and the verbal spats unfold reminiscent of Who’ s Afraid of Virgina Wolf but with a twist. Eva’s relentless quizzing of Alfred and Melinda opens wounds in Eduardo also as well as the two cheerful ones. The mean spirited motorist who likes to splash pedestrians figures into the story in a clever way. I’ll not give away more so as not to be a spoiler.
As the veneer wears thin, we see that Alfred is happy; Edwardo is happy; Melinda is happy but Eva is not happy. She probes, challenges, and quizzes each as the effects of booze lowers the pretense that results in startling revelations. The laughs early on lead to powerful drama as the strength of Eva’s character, played intensely by the talented Amanda Powell, emerges to bring out the hidden truth especially from Alfred. Michael Sherwin is terrific as the happy one who discovers that he may not be the jovial soul after all.
The performances are as strong as the writing. This 80 minute piece will grab you from the start and it will keep you involved throughout with a few laughs thrown in. Don’t miss this darkly funny play.
For more info checkout the Happy page at theatreinchicago.com
At Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Brwb Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-728-7529, www.redtwist.org, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 80 minutes without intermission, through March 16, 2014