4/24/2013 10:06 AM
Anita Loos’ Happy Birthday doesn’t break new ground or ask its audience to grapple with jarring social issues. It doesn’t shed light on foreign injustices or unravel long-buried family secrets. It is simply, in the best way imaginable, a fun play that offers its readers, audience, and characters a little reprieve from the everyday mundane.
Set in a contemporary bar at the time of its writing (1947), Happy Birthday introduces a mousy librarian to alcohol for the first time, a vice she has refused her entire life in no small part due to her father’s abuse of the substance. The setup, along with Addie’s initial reluctance to take even a sip, leaves one to wonder how and why she will ever abandon her teetotaling ways. Her first drink comes relatively early into the play, after initial reluctance on her part and an unexplained (initially) desire to speak with the town’s banker. Once the booze touches her lips, though, I found that her stalwart inclination toward abstinence was not the thorn in my side I anticipated, and I was thoroughly along for the ride.
There’s great fun to be had in Happy Birthday, and Loos mines the situation for every ounce of humor she can – be it from Addie sloshing, singing, and swaying, or from two glorious old sots who engender a bit of fun to amuse themselves on their girls’ night out. More surprisingly, however, is the number of then-taboo topics Loos slips in without judgment: adultery, pregnancy out of wedlock, alcoholism, and mild physical abuse. As if numbed by liquor, these subjects roll right off the backs of the play’s characters, imbuing the otherwise harmless world with a sense of depth and reality that past and future generations can relate to alike.
I’ll have another double pink lady.