Happy Woman has a strong plot...but other problems
by Dave Ross
“Happy, happy, happy…” These words open the production of Rose Cullis's The Happy Woman from Nightwood Theatre. The play is billed as a “darkly comic exploration of what happens when bliss gets in the way of truth and threatens to destroy the very foundation we rely on.” The play gives us exactly that, a darkly comic story with tragic elements dispersed throughout. Unfortunately, the production itself lacks in several regards.
The cast also seemed somewhat uncomfortable with the text.
The story is strong, but suffers from a few pacing issues, with some scenes seeming completely unnecessary, or not fitting in well with their adjoining content. Transitions are abrupt, and much of the first act lacked a sense of flow. The performers themselves (all very capable in their own regard), do a good job of portraying their characters, but there is a lack of chemistry, particularly between Martin Happer as Christian and Maev Beaty as Cassie. They play brother and sister, but much of their early interaction seemed forced. Some of this forced nature is explained as the plot progresses, but Cullis’s plot waits so long to reveal this tension (and others) that the clarity seems to arrive too late.
The cast also seemed somewhat uncomfortable with the text. There were numerous occasions where lines were flubbed, and while they were covered with hardly an eyelash batted, they were still there, and it leant an unpolished quality to the production. However, special mention for excellent performance goes to Martin Happer, who manages to be thoroughly and convincingly unlikeable for much of the play.
My general impression of the play was that it has a good story, but requires something more, an intangible element that was missing. There are places where conflict seems to exist for little sake, and places were it felt like more development was required. The production is a minimalist one, with a cast of only five. The music by Joelysa Pankanea is so subtle as to be un-noticeable, while the somewhat creative lighting by designer Kimberly Purtell serves to create different spaces in the simple set design by Denyse Karn. All of these elements come together to create a production that is, on the whole, unremarkable.
Theatre, like any art, requires new work. We must applaud the efforts of Nightwood Theatre and the cast and crew for bringing this entirely new work to the stage. There is no canonical past production to refer to, and every character, every nuance, every event has to be imagined fresh from the other. Perhaps as the run continues the show will achieve a higher level of polish, but in the meantime it remains a darkly comic story trapped in an unremarkable production.