Woody Weingarten

Reviews, etc.

‘The Happy Ones’ fails to make reviewer happy

Woody Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5 stars)

Walter (played by Liam Craig, left) and Gary (Gabriel Marin) momentarily experience a 1975 version of the Good Life in “The Happy Ones.” Photo: Jennifer Reiley.

The Magic Theatre habitually risks audience disapproval.

It nurtures edginess.

It wrestles with uncomfortable subject matter.

And, happily, it aims many productions at crowds more youthful — and ready to laugh and cry — than your average card-carrying AARP member/theatergoer.

In recent years, it has produced “Any Given Day,” a tragicomedy that examined fear and hope through two developmentally disabled characters; “Jesus in India,” which tackled and turned upside down the oft-debated lost years; “Brothers Size,” a tear-jerking drama (peppered with spicy humor) about brotherly love; and “Another Way Home,” a serio-comedy that probed how a family’s life could be narrowed by a teenager’s mental problems.They all flourished. They all pleased me. A lot.

“The Happy Ones,” unfortunately, is an exception that proves different isn’t necessarily good.

The synthetic comic drama falls several degrees south of mediocre.

In my view, the Bay Area premiere at San Francisco’s Magic was almost totally void of theatrical magic.Ostensibly a peek at lives being inside-outed by a fatal accident, Julie Marie Myatt’s play simply languishes as it turns grief into boredom.

Before it flat-lines, her creation crawls like an injured sloth, working its predictable storyline about suburban Paradise Lost into a non-crescendo — despite a final scene that contains the lone sincerely touching moments in close to two hours.

It’s a shame, because all four actors — Jomar Tagatac as Bao Ngo, Marcia Pizzo as Mary-Ellen Hughes, Liam Craig as Walter Wells and Gabriel Marin as Gary Stuart — are top drawer as they project awkwardness and distance (and because the details of the period set, costuming and ‘70s music work extremely well).

Yet all of it becomes wasted wrapping paper for a basically empty gift box.Opening night, “The Happy Ones” — which drew lukewarm laughter and polite applause from a mega-friendly audience — kept the word “contrived” flashing in my mind like a neon sign gone bonkers.

That made it difficult for me to relate to the plights of the Orange County husband/father/appliance store owner who discovers his American Dream turned into a nightmare, the accidental Vietnamese killer who repeatedly says he wants

to die but can’t and therefore concocts an unbelievable route to forgiveness, a fifth-rate minister who repeatedly bemoans his being a fifth-rate minister, and an aging, insecure sexpot looking for a good time or a good partner, whichever comes first.In a similar vein, allusions to the end of the Vietnam War and the wave of refugees to the United States had zero emotional impact for me.

I’d hoped to find “The Happy Ones,” as advertised, hilarious and heartbreaking — filled with nuances and strength.

I didn’t.

“The Happy Ones” plays at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, San Francisco, through Sunday, April 21. Performances Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Tuesdays, 7 p.m.; matinees, Saturdays and Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $22 to $62. Information: (415) 441-8822 or www.magictheatre.org.