Mary-Ellen (Marcia Pizzo) tries to cheer up Walter (Liam Craig) in ‘The Happy Ones’ at Magic Theatre.
One minute, life is perfectly happy. The next minute, everything comes crashing down. That’s what happens to Walter Wells (Liam Craig) in Julie Marie Myatt’s “The Happy Ones,” presented by Magic Theatre.
It’s 1975 in Garden Grove. Walter has a beautiful wife and two great kids, a boy and a girl. They live in a lovely home and have good friends and neighbors. He owns a successful appliance business.
Then a phone call changes his life. His wife and children have been killed in a traffic accident caused by a wrong-way driver. He plunges into grief.
Among others, his best friend, Unitarian minister Gary Stuart (Gabriel Marin), and Gary’s new girlfriend, Mary-Ellen Hughes (Marcia Pizzo), try to cheer him up, but he just wants to be left alone.
When he goes to the hospital to confront the injured driver, Bao Ngo (Jomar Tagatac), who killed his family, Walter rejects the Vietnamese refugee’s requests to kill him.
Bao later shows up at Walter’s store begging to give Walter something or to do something for him, like cooking or cleaning. Walter reluctantly relents, unknowingly setting both himself and Bao on a path toward recovery.
Like Walter, Bao has suffered the loss of his wife and two children. When Bao fled Vietnam during the fall of Saigon, they stayed behind, only to be killed a few days later. Bao also lost his livelihood as a pediatrician and now works nights in a bakery.
Director Jonathan Moscone skillfully leads his four well-cast actors along the emotional road that Myatt has laid out for them. Craig embodies Walter’s initial near-catatonia as he somehow gets himself to work every day.
Tagatac is sympathetic as the guilt-ridden Bao, who has his own losses to overcome. Marin and Pizzo as Gary and Mary-Ellen, both of whom are insecure but well-intentioned, are good foils to Walter and Bao.
Erik Flatmo’s set and Christine Crook’s costume design recreate the time and place, aided by Cliff Caruthers’ sound design, highlighted by popular music of that era.
The two-act “The Happy Ones” is a fascinating, memorable study of grief and recovery, leavened by humor. It’s well worth seeing.
It continues at Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, through April 21. For tickets and information call (415) 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org.