We don't make it out to The Magic Theatre too often, in large part because of the travel anxiety associated with getting out of the Marina after dark, but for all those of you who live in the vicinity of Fort Mason you should really be aware of this place, which is dedicated to producing new and interesting plays. The latest, The Happy Ones by Julie Marie Myatt, directed by Jonathan Moscone, is an exploration of what it means to find happiness, how tenuous a proposition that usually is, and how to find it again when it seems irrevocably lost.

The story centers on cheery, affable Walter Wells (played with great charisma and subtlety by Liam Craig), an appliance salesman and family man in 1975 Orange County who "has it all," so to speak, until he doesn't. When a tragic accident takes the lives of his wife and kids early in the play, he's left to wonder, like Job, what he possibly did to deserve this.

Luckily his best friend Gary (played with goofy guilelessness by Gabriel Marin) is a Unitarian minister, but not so luckily, Gary has no real answers for him. "The truth is I think God is an incredible asshole sometimes," Gary admits. Gary has been cavorting with a divorced neighbor, Mary-Ellen (played by Marcia Pizzo with a ton of spunk and charm, and a not inconsiderable resemblance, audibly and visibly, to Laura Linney in the Tales of the City miniseries). Mary-Ellen and Gary make it their project to pull Walter out of his funk, despite the impossible task of that. And then comes Bao Ngo (played with believable foreignness and quiet humor by Jomar Tagatac), a Vietnamese immigrant who escaped the fall of Saigon earlier that year only to cause the deadly accident that took Walter's family from him. We won't reveal any further details, but suffice it to say the two men become more entwined in each others' lives, affecting their individual senses of happiness, than either of them expects.

While the themes of the play are universal, and Myatt's treatment of them is both poignant and at times poetic, we couldn't help but lose the dramatic thread of the piece in a wash of what can only be described as over-earnestness. It's a play that lives above cynicism, and tries to solve the impossible question of how a person can recover from grief, but in doing so we were left feeling like its aims were actually too simple. Grief is a topic covered much throughout literature and film, and in far more compelling ways. The framework of Walter's and Bao's specific experiences of grief, and how Myatt portrays them resolving it, seems unoriginal, at times corny, and flat.

The second act certainly recovers some energy, and brings in a few welcome surprises after what feels like a desultory first half. Moscone's direction is considered and quiet throughout, as the play demands. We especially admired Moscone's deft hand in the briefest vignettes, like the opening party scene, and some of Walter and Bao's quieter moments.

We just wish, in dealing with universal, age-old ideas, that we were left with something newer to chew on.

The Happy Ones plays through April 21.