The Theatrical Pursuit of Happiness

Special Features   The Theatrical Pursuit of Happiness
 
The acclaimed British play, Happy Now?, makes its New York City premiere, asking a tough question: What Makes You Happy?
Mary Bacon and CJ Wilson in Happy Now?
Mary Bacon and CJ Wilson in Happy Now? Photo by James Leynse

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In Lucinda Coxon's Happy Now?, the new play at Off-Broadway's Primary Stages, actress Mary Bacon plays Kitty, a frustrated married woman who has a self-pitying mother, a hospitalized father, an ailing boss, a husband who has willfully taken a much lower paying job and an alcoholic friend. She is also seriously contemplating having an affair. Bacon says she relates to her. Really?

"I wanted to tell my husband about how I was relating to the character," she says, giggling, "but then I didn't want to tell him. You don't really want to say that."

No, you don't. But Bacon — who's been having a busy season Off-Broadway, scoring a surprise hit with last fall's revival of Sidney Howard's The Late Christopher Bean — responded to Kitty right away, even though she went to audition for another role, Bea, in the American premiere of Happy Now?, which played at Yale Rep in the fall of 2008.

Prior to the audition, she remembers thinking, "Boy, Kitty really responds to stress the way I do. I feel I'm always scrambling, always late, with my husband, who I can blame when I know it's my fault. It reminded me of my irrationality. It's something I'd like to change, but I can't change it. Even her sense of humor fits. Those are the best auditions, when you're actually trying to figure out what the character is about. That makes you very real. You actually become a human being, which is what acting is supposed to be about. But it's easy to forget that." Playwright Coxon and director Liz Diamond must have seen something of that as well. After Bacon auditioned for Bea, they stopped her at the door and asked if she would return the next day and try out for Kitty. When Bacon returned, she read five major scenes and nailed the part.

Hailing from Denver, Bacon now lives where her family's artistic tendencies first took root. Her mother's mother performed in the Brooklyn Heights Players and in vaudeville. She then met a doctor and moved to Kansas, giving up her theatrical career. But she transferred her interests to her kids, exposing them to music, opera and dramatics, and they in turn passed the arts down to their children.

"There's a lot of arts on my mom's side of the family," says Bacon. As a girl, she performed with her six brothers with a Catholic theatre group in Denver called Original Scene. Father Dwyer said Mass on stage before the show. "He would pray to St. Ignatius, who I thought for a long time was the saint of theatre."

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