Friday, April 5, 2013

"The Happy Ones" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Liam Craig is a great actor. He plays Walter Wells as if he has climbed inside his skin. At the start of the play, Wells proclaims that he, his wife and two kids, and his close friend Reverend Gary Stuart (Gabriel Marin) have the perfect lives. These Southern Californians are indeed the happy ones. But then the phone rings and Walter's world is turned upside down. For the rest of the play we see him attempting to climb out of an enormous emotional hole and he goes about it with class. Craig and author Julie Marie Myatt give Walter what we almost never see anymore -- a suburbanite with a soul. Walter's life has been challenged, but he is determined to get through it on terms that he and we can applaud.

Gabe Marin's Gary is the world's worst clergyman and he knows it. The pastor of the Universalist Unitarian Church, he is a wandering soul fatally attracted to divorcee Mary-Ellen Hughes (Marcia Pizzo). Gary and Mary-Ellen try to comfort Walter, but their efforts are as clumsy as everyone else's. We can safely tell you there is death involved, but this is not a story about death. When they wheel in Bao Ngo, played by the amazing Jomar Tagatac, a touching story begins, where anguish and mistrust lead slowly to friendship.

We cannot give Tagatac enough credit. His suffering has enveloped him, but he maintains a restraint that would, with a lesser actor, come across as unreal. Liam Craig's character drives the show, but Bao Ngo is the one we cannot forget.

Director Jonathan Moscone, and Scenic Designer Erik Flatmo have developed a pinpoint choreography with the stage crew to make many scene and prop changes occur flawlessly on the Magic's small stage. It's like a show within a show -- and they have to do it with the lights out.

There are memorable quotes, but they're all spoilers so we're not going to give you any. "The Happy Ones" is one of the best shows we've seen this year and you won't want to miss it.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Happy Ones" Four Stars. Acting, Directing, Staging and Writing all merit a full star each. We love how the plot turns with a big surprise in Act One, and we then set out on a great ride through to the end of Act Two, when the author pays us off and thanks us for our efforts.

It is also nice, as Producing Artistic Loretta Greco says at the outset, to have "a strange thing happen in the middle of the play: people get up and leave the theater. This is called an intermission." Intermissions are becoming as rare as lengthy attention spans in today's theater, often with good reason. Not here. We've got a lot to think about.

"The Happy Ones"
The Magic Theatre, San Francisco
Fort Mason Center
Building D, Third Floor
Through April 21

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