At the beginning of Marin Theatre Company’s production of “Happy Now?” — British playwright Lucinda Coxon’s sympathetic exploration of a dispiriting quest for happiness among a group of English urban professionals — the main character, Kitty (Rosemary Garrison), meets disingenuously seductive Michael (Andrew Hurteau) at a conference.
He admits to being an out-of-shape clown figure, but informs her knowingly that her husband never really kisses her anymore, and that eventually she’ll turn to him, Michael, for comfort and passion.
Because Kitty doesn’t laugh and leave, we know what he says is true, and that eventually Kitty will succumb.
And that’s what happens — sort of.
In between, during the course of two (overly long) acts, we learn a lot about Kitty’s harried and demanding life and just how exhausted and increasingly dissatisfied she is with it.
Her husband, Johnny (Alex Moggridge), has dropped out of the rat race to become a schoolteacher, causing new family problems. Her two (unseen) kids are elusive.
Kitty and Johnny socialize with another couple, the sardonic Miles (Mark Anderson Phillips) and his blank slate of a wife (Mollie Stickney), plus an affable gay lawyer (Kevin Rolston), the only one among the five who seems, at first anyway, happy.
Kitty’s parents are divorced; her unseen father is in the hospital, and an overextended Kitty describes her needy, hypochrondriac of a mother (played in hyper-realistic dream sequences, amusingly, by Hurteau) as “evil.”
During Act 1 there’s much seemingly trite chatter (discussions of “Will and Grace,” home remodeling, gourmet cuisine), slightly forced humor (Kitty steps in dog poop) and hints at bigger difficulties to come.
But do we really care about these people? That’s a crucial question upon which the success of the play hinges.
In the second act, as the characters are seriously unraveling, we see more clearly the emptiness that hovers below the surface of these privileged lives.
“We’re heading for disaster,” Kitty warns Johnny, and at another point she exclaims, of her life, “Is this it?” We’ve all been there at times, but somehow I wanted to empathize more than I actually did.
However, that’s not the fault of the well-acted Marin Theatre Company West Coast premiere.
Director Jasson Minadakis plays up the comic elements while handling the characters’ inner anguish with sensitivity and, for the most part, restraint.
How well it all works for you depends upon how much you can identify with Kitty and friends.
Presented by Marin Theatre Company
Where: 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Saturdays; 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; plus 2 p.m. this Saturday and 1 p.m. Dec. 2; closes Dec. 5
Tickets: $33 to $53
Contact: (415) 388-5208; www.marintheatre.org