“The Happy Ones” at Seattle Public Theater

Have you ever had the feeling that life is so good, so very, very good, that there must be some disaster waiting just around the corner? Walter Wells, the main character in Julie Marie Myatt’s “The Happy Ones” has such a wonderful family and life that he thinks it’s almost too good to be true. He’s right. Tragedy strikes, wiping out his family. Bewildered and bereaved, he’s left to reframe his existence.

If you think this will be the worst downer of a play imaginable, think again. It’s funny, upbeat, poignant, and sad all at the same time. The topic is handled with great sensitivity and insight. Through loss one can gain. Guilt and forgiveness transcend cultures and personalities. There are many lessons here, and they are presented in unexpectedly appealing and humorous fashion.

It’s 1975 in a suburban development in Southern California and Walter (insightfully played by K. Brian Neel) is living out the American Dream until the fateful day. This is the time of leisure suits, “Gunsmoke” on TV, disco, too much drinking, tuna casseroles, the aftermath of the Vietnam war, and music that brings back memories—The Momas & the Papas, Pink Floyd, Credence Clearwater Revival, and so many more.

David Hsieh as Boa, the insecure, despondent Vietnamese refugee who caused the catastrophic accident gives a heartbreaking performance. Shawn Law as Gary, Walter’s charming but raunchy, wild buddy has just the right combination of concern and ineptness. He’d do anything to help his friend but too often makes a mess of it. Though why the playwright made him a clergyman is questionable. Macall Gordon is brilliant as Mary-Ellen the divorced and oversexed neighbor. She has a heart of gold and the good sense of a stone. Her lines are the funniest in the show and she delivers them with the aplomb of Tina Fey.

Seattle Public Theatre took a risk with this play. It could have been maudlin or just uncomfortable to watch. Instead, thanks to the insightful direction of David Gassner, and the witty dialog of playwright Myatt, it’s a great night at the theatre.

“The Happy Ones” at Seattle Public Theater through April 10. (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org).


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