“Happy Birthday” is Anita Loos‘ fluffy ode to love

By Lucy Komisar

A charmer and good fun, albeit dated, Anita Loos ˜ 1946 play tracks the lives of the denizens of a bar in Newark, NJ.

Victoria Mack as Maude Carson, Todd Gearhart as Paul Bishop and Mary Bacon as Addie Bemis, photo Hunter Canning.

It centers around the transformation of Addie Bemis (a very delightful Mary Bacon), who starts out as a rather tight prudish young woman, and ends up singing on the bar. The magic ingredient, of course, is love.

Addie arrives at the Jersey Mecca Cocktail Bar. (The lit crescents and stars that give the room pizazz are by designer Brett J. Banakis.) She is pursuing Paul Bishop (Todd Gearhart), the teller where she banks. Paul, however, is there with Maude Carson (a delightfully tacky Victoria Mack), the flirty beautician he is planning to marry.

Mary Bacon as Addie Bemis, photo Hunter Canning.

As her plans hit that obstacle, Addie switches from a glass of water to pink ladies and then to harder stuff. Now, she becomes tight in another way. But the alcohol helps her cut loose. Bacon does a smashing rendition of “I Haven‘t Got a Worry in the World,” which Rodgers and Hammerstein II wrote for the show.

Among others in the cast, Tom Berklund as Don, a sexy merchant mariner and son of the bar‘s owner (Karen Ziemba), and Lesley Shires as his girlfriend June do a terrific tango number.

The birthday, by the way, belongs to Myrtle (Margot White), who sighs that her married lover spends New Year‘s Eve and every other holiday with his wife. And, worse luck, his wife has the same birthday as she does! Addie orders champagne all around.

Tom Berklund as Don Hosmer, Lesley Shires as June, Karen Ziemba as Gail Hosmer, Ron McClary as Herman, and Anderson Matthews as Homer Bemis, photo Hunter Canning.

Then Addie‘s drunk father (Anderson Matthews) arrives and is stunned by her state. Matthews does well as two drunks, Homer Bemis and the Judge, which may be a subtle commentary.

Loos wrote the play for her friend Helen Hayes, who played Addie and won a 1947 Tony for best actress in a play. It‘s almost 70 years old and occasionally shows its age, but under director Scott Alan Evans‘s affectionate but light touch, it has a lot of spunk and generally holds up pretty well.

“Happy Birthday.” Written by Anita Loos; directed by Scott Alan Evans. The Actors Company Theatre at Beckett Theatre, 210 West 42 Street, New York City. (212) 239-6200; . Opened March 21; closes April 13, 2013. 3/22/13. Review on New York Theatre Wire.

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