Make Someone Happy
Sacramento, CA 95814
Some years, Buck Busfield (the B Street Theatre’s producing artistic director and all-around leader) writes an original holiday play.Other years, Busfield writes a new play that’s mounted in the holiday slot. Which describes Make Someone Happy, a new piece that Busfield should take pride in.
It’s got only faint seasonal connections (there’s some gratuitous red and green in the poster art). Why? Perhaps, as Busfield observes, “many folks, who otherwise never attend theater, will go to a holiday show.”
Make Someone Happy is actually an “offbeat romantic comedy” featuring a cautious courtship between an unlikely pair, played by B Street regulars. Elisabeth (actress Dana Brooke) is an attractive young woman who leads a very sheltered life under the eagle-eyed, much older Agnes (Mary Baird). Tony (David Pierini) is a talkative, slightly world-weary parcel delivery man, entering middle age. Elisabeth and Tony are both lonely and have “issues,” which can’t be disclosed without spoiling the story. The parts feel custom-tailored to Pierini’s comic style and Brooke’s meaningful gaze.
The setting is contemporary New York City, glittering and grim. The smooth voice of Tony Bennett (heard singing in many scenes, or between them) sets the mood.
The episodic first act establishes characters and relationships, and passes quickly. The second act is the payoff: a sometimes gritty metropolitan walking tour with diverting (but not frivolous!) appearances by a gray-haired bag lady, a boastful black street entertainer (a good turn by intern Maurice Whitfield), and an exotic dancer in a plexiglass cage (intern Tara Sissom). This indirectly invokes Scrooge’s soul-opening supernatural trips, or George Bailey’s angel-guided hometown visit in It’s a Wonderful Life. But this being an offbeat romantic comedy (not a holiday play), the sojourn leads us to a different destination.
Busfield tells the story (as playwright and director) with more assurance than in several past efforts. He’s stopped worrying about asking his holiday audience to stay for longer than two hours (it’s actually 2.5 hours—so what?), and he’s under no obligation to wrap up the story with a tidy ribbon-in-a-bow. Make Someone Happy is a quietly impressive new piece. You can enjoy it as December’s show—and more important, it’s a good play.