Walter Wells is one of the happy ones. He has a nice house in Orange County with a swimming pool. He has a beautiful wife and beautiful children, seen in a framed poster-size color photograph above his mantel. He owns his own appliance store and enjoys the occasional or not-so-occasional night of dancing and too many cocktails with his friends. In fact, nothing bad has ever happened to Walter Wells. Everything is going his way. It's clear from the beginning of The Happy Ones that playwright Julie Marie Myatt is setting Walter up for a fall.
As seen in Magic Theatre's Bay Area premiere of the play, which debuted at South Coast Repertory in 2009, Walter is way too happy. He's dancing around his living room, mixing cocktails and happily conversing with his offstage wife getting dressed for her birthday party and kids, who are playing in the pool. He cracks jokes with the kid who keeps prank calling his store. As he tells his best friend the day after the party, "This is the dream right here. We got it. This is it."
Anyone who's ever seen anything knows this is exactly like saying, "It's quiet, too quiet," in an action flick. In a cop movie it would be a line about being only a few days away from retirement, about to buy a boat and sail the world. It doesn't help that a glance at the program will tell you that Walter's wife and kids are not going to be characters in this play. When Myatt uses the timeworn trope of Walter preparing to really zing the prank caller the next time the phone rings, you know perfectly well that the call is going to be someone else with some very bad news. That's what always happens in this kind of play.
And sure enough, like God with his faithful servant Job, Myatt takes everything away from Walter Wells, the guy who always did everything right and hadn't a care in the world. Well, not everything -- he still has his job, his house, his wealth, and his health, but he doesn't have his family anymore. All it takes is one driver going the wrong way on a freeway exit, and they're gone.