Happy Birthday to You, Mom & Dad Productions, at the Performance Loft, Second Unitarian Church of Chicago. Joseph Feliciano and Renee Phillippi’s collection of short vignettes is intended to showcase the full spectrum of human life–and by the play’s end we feel we’ve passed an entire lifetime. Unfortunately, it’s a life drained of passion, emotion, and significance. The view of the world in Happy Birthday to You never stretches beyond the immediately obvious, and with few exceptions the characters are white, middle-class ten-year-olds or white, middle-class senior citizens.
The play’s morbid collection of maladroit sad sacks, self-centered losers, and dysfunctional depressives suggests that the playwrights’ vision of existence is horribly limited. Worse, Feliciano and Phillippi have draped the entire show under a moth-eaten blanket of moral righteousness; their intentions are wholly transparent at every turn. Every scene and monologue offers a stale, prefab lesson in morality; every one comes to an abrupt end, before any moment of catharsis can be reached.
The four performers’ mime is crisp, and each occasionally manages to bring some emotional weight to the cliche-ridden script, but the play’s subject is too broad to be covered in two hours. Bookended by a pair of ridiculous interpretive dances signifying birth and death, Happy Birthday to You is merely a platform for whining and angsting about life’s trials that’s as one-dimensional as most of its characters. –Nick Green