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  • Chris O'Rourke

Happiness Then...

Rachael Dowling and Sorcha Furlong in Elizabeth Moynahan's Happiness Then... Image by Al Craig


Misery loves company in Elizabeth’s Moynihan’s delightful two hander, Happiness Then… even if misery might be better off without the company. Like snuggling up to a wire brush, estranged sisters Frances and Bridget are more likely to cut each other to shreds than dish out sibling consolation. Meeting in a wine bar, the two sisters try to talk about their mother’s death, her will, an ex-husband, a vanished son and the new woke normal that is modern life for the older woman. In which Happiness Then… serves up lightweight meditations on transitioning from male to female along with questions about alcohol and addiction. Yet what it lacks in depth it makes up for in heart, it’s touching portrayal of two warring sisters striving for connection full of tender moments.

In a story about binary opposites, Happiness Then… relies heavily on binary opposites. It’s odd couple of straight-laced, uptight, control freak Bridget and wine swilling, mad aunt, devil may care Frances being a format as old as the hills and as recent as Grace and Frankie. Indeed, like Grace and Frankie it commences with a former husband coming out. This time as female; Frances’ former husband looking to be addressed as she/her. A lengthy argument on drinking, transitioning, and fidelity in marriage flips midway to facilitate Bridget’s concerns. Namely her missing son and why he ran away. No lead in, just a contrived switch that comes out of nowhere to switch character focus. Not for the first time will Happiness Then… reveal itself as structurally contrived, even as Moynihan crafts lines and scenes brimming with charm.

Rachael Dowling and Sorcha Furlong in Elizabeth Moynihan's Happiness Then... Image by Al Craig

If there’s little at stake, and if it doesn’t end so much as run out of road leaving too many questions unanswered, director Liam Halligan sensitively negotiates all this to emphasise the generosity in Moynihan’s undercooked script. We may not quite believe that these women want to be around each other in what they say, but we glimpse why they might in how they behave. Due, in no small measure, to two riveting performances. A ying yang dynamic of dark and light (those opposites again) with Rachael Dowling’s suffocating, green tea drinking Bridget, looking exaggeratedly high strung on occasion, enough to turn anyone to drink. Yet when Dowling beautifully evokes the pain of women trying endlessly to be perfect you glimpse the source of the rage that fuels her. Sorcha Furlong grounding it all with a captivatingly brilliant performance. The world weary Frances delightfully understated, adding calm to Dowling’s distress.

Throughout, Moynihan's “let’s talk it all better” approach skims the surface of its heavier issues. Yet its exploration of two sisters whose loneliness reminds them there just might be someone in the world who gets them is genuinely heartfelt. An estrangement reflected in Toni Bailey’s clashing costumes. If Eoin Lennon’s set looks like a cáfe closer to home than a wine bar, it adds to a sense of eavesdropping. In which Dowling and Furlong shine. In the end Happiness Then… is a snack, not a meal. But it makes for a tasty lunchtime treat none the less.

Happiness Then… by Elizabeth Moynihan, runs at Bewley’s Cáfe Theatre until March 9.

For more information visit Bewley’s Cáfe Theatre


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