Julie Marie Myatt recasts 1970s nostalgia for our own bleak times in 'The Happy Ones'
"You can't repay me for killing my family," objects Walter. "It doesn't work like that." Reparations, of whatever kind, seem to be running in the wrong direction here. Would this relationship remain as conceivable as it supposedly is here if Bao were an Iraqi refugee in 2013? If the playwright means for the lines to appall us, as they should, the production seems indifferent to this subtext.
So Mary-Ellen's rhetorical question about the responsibility for the war lingers between two relative outsiders who, with a combination of pity and desire, orbit around a central character whose social position is the normative one — with real-world power and privilege that neither Bao nor Mary-Ellen can match, and the one most directly associated by reason of class, gender, and race with the interests promulgating war abroad.
This should be the basis of a painful awakening in the audience, a scathing critique of the solipsism of power. But it ends up seeming more like the re-inscribing of the same order. The racism, imperialism, and sexism shaping the lives of Bao and Mary-Ellen are gently broached at best, trivialized at worst. Walter's grief and personal transformation remain paramount. And if Bao and Mary-Ellen seem to have gained some hopeful ground by the end too, it is only because each has, desperately but also willingly, hitched his or her future to a white man. *
THE HAPPY ONES
Through April 21, $22-$62
Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D, Third Flr., SF