In the final dramatic hours of the Cuban Missile Crisis, eight ‘ordinary citizens’ spend a wakeful night contemplating life, death and grocery lists – among them, Lee Harvey Oswald and his young Russian bride, a Havana baseball star, a Presidential candidate’s lover and the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. is an erotic, darkly humorous study of personal and political crisis.


“Can you imagine not seeing another Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Birthday, Dance or even Halloween? We’re just too young to die!”

Letter from a Massachusetts schoolgirl, October 1962

The events of The Happiness Compartment take place in the final hours of October 28th 1962.

They are recollected by ‘Marion’ on the night of July 18th 1969.

A young woman wakes from unquiet dreams to find herself alone on in a strange room. All she can remember – and that vaguely – is the offer of a ride home. The man who made the offer, who sits behind the wheel, is her boss – a charismatic US Senator. While desperately trying to piece together the events that led to her being trapped in the room, she is plagued by memories from seven years before: 1962 – the year the Senator was elected to office, the year she turned twenty-one and the year the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Over the course of one terrifying night, the young woman’s fantasies unravel. The room is peopled by others who have been or will be dramatically affected by the Senator and his powerful family: Clare, a young co-ed who has just spent the night with him; Reed, one of his ambitious campaign workers; ‘Alik’ just back from the Soviet Union with a Russian wife, Marina, and a fierce determination to make his mark whatever the cost; Eva, a former nightclub dancer ‘possessed’ by the spirit of the recently departed Marilyn Monroe; Ruth, once a personal masseuse to the dead star and now Eva’s only companion; and Palero, a Cuban baseball star about to pitch the perfect game. As they all scramble to make some sense of their lives in the shadow of the bomb, the young woman begins to make connections with her own fears, desires and expectations. 

Contains scenes of a sexual nature.

Playwright’s Note


America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets. You can’t ascribe our fall from grace to any single event or set of circumstances. You can’t lose what you lacked at conception.

James Ellroy, American Tabloid


Jack tended to compartmentalize his relationships. I was the happiness compartment.

Jacqueline Kennedy


The Cuban Missile Crisis erupted in October 1962, when American U2 spy planes confirmed the presence of Soviet missile sites in newly socialist Cuba. For “thirteen days” the world held its breath as ultimatum after ultimatum passed between the Pentagon and Kremlin. A full scale nuclear confrontation was only averted at the last minute when, according to which historian one reads, Khruschev backed down or Kennedy compromised.


The incident at Chappaquiddick Island occurred in July 1969, when an Oldsmobile driven by the surviving Kennedy brother, Edward, veered off a narrow bridge at night, plunging the car into the water below. The Senator escaped with only minor injuries, but his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, a young woman in her twenties, drowned.


The previous year Mary Jo had worked on Robert Kennedy’s doomed campaign for President as part of the team nicknamed ‘The Boiler-House Girls’ due to the demanding backroom work they did. Edward Kennedy himself recorded, “She was a gentle, kind and idealistic person … [after Bobby’s death] all of us tried to help her feel she still had a home with the family.”


Despite her contribution to the Kennedy political machine, Mary Jo’s legacy is one of association rather than of individual merit, and the circumstances of her death – like those of Jack and Bobby – have become the stuff of conspiracy theory and urban myth. Indeed during her fifteen minutes of fame, Monica Lewinsky was quoted as saying, “I don’t want to end up like Mary Jo Kopechne.”




Marilyn Monroe died on August 5th, 1962.




‘Alik’ was the pet name Marina Oswald gave her husband, Lee.




The character of Eva can be played by a male actor as a drag artist – as in the New York production.





Dykes’ eight-hander has proved itself eerily relevant. It is by turns erotic, tense and breezily combative … What the play has to say about American disillusionment with The Dream is compelling.

Madeleine North, Time Out, London, October 2003

Dykes’ rich, humorous and multi-layered script is thrilling. The Happiness Compartment‘s messages and warnings are as potent today as 40 years ago.

Melanie Gomm, News Shopper, London, October 2003

A fascinating, highly intelligent play … Writing in an insistent rhythm that is almost verse, Dykes makes great demands on his audience, but offers great stimulus too.

Ian Herbert, Theatre Record, Issue 20, 2003

Dykes’ taming of the jungle of rumour and myth surrounding the murky underworld politics of the era is laudable … [The play] borrows the resonant power of pop music to evoke a moment in time … with rare intimacy.

Louis Chantal, What’s On Magazine, July 1995

Production History

MADAYS Company, Oval House Theatre, London, July 1995



Marion, Alexandra Harbold

The Pitcher, A S Hardy Shafi

Alik, Tom Farrelly

Marina, Lori Myers

Clare, Emily Lawrence

Reed, Rob Crouch

Eva, Colette Kelly

Ruth, Joy Renzi

Baseball Commentary, Luis Alberto Soto

Director, Nesta Jones

Assistant Director, Annabelle Comyn

Designer, Tim Heywood

Lighting Designer, Aideen Malone

Sound Designer, Rhys Davies


The play was short-listed for the Bush Theatre / Allied Domecq International Playwright Award (1998).


Theatre M, Soho Playhouse, New York, November 1998


Marion, Karen B Samuleson

The Pitcher, Michael Surabian

Alik, Richard Omar

Marina, Cassandra Han

Clare, Sandra Zam

Reed, Cory Peterson

Eva, Steven Spraragen

Ruth, Joanna Keylock

Baseball Commentary, Luis Alberto Soto

Director, Julia Carey

Designer, Rosemar Rire

Lighting Designer, Michael O’Connor

Sound Designer, Perchick Miller


NXT, Greenwich Playhouse, London, October 2003



Marion, Sally Chase

The Pitcher, Mark Lucas

Alik, Colin Goodwin

Marina, Jennifer Flockhart

Clare, Leanne Hall

Reed, Paul Vincent

Eva, Jennifer Page

Ruth, Suna Incedal

Baseball Commentary, Luis Alberto Soto

Director, Steven Dykes

Assistant Director, Sarah Lunn

Designer, Kate Johnson

Lighting Designer, Richard White


American Theatre Arts, Lamorbey House, Rose Bruford College, London, April 2014

(Site-specific / immersive multi-audience production).

Marion, Georgia Maskery, Jordan Aikin, Hebe Fox

The Pitcher, Lewis Newman, Simon Kopunec

Alik,Elliot Burton, Keith Higinbotham, Michael Tait

Marina, Rachel Bunn, Sara Martinez, Danka Svetlikova

Clare, Abigail White, Shalana Bharath, Mary O’Loan

Reed, Zachary Throne, Evan Simmonds, Thomas Maryon

Eva, Emily Thompson, David Fenne, Þuríður Elín Sigurðardóttir

Ruth, Chanelle King, Emma Godwin, Abbigale Clark

Baseball Commentary, Luis Alberto Soto

Director, Steven Dykes

Assistant Director, Jamianne Devlin

Designer, Natasha Jones

Lighting Designer, Agostino Calfino

Sound Designer, Jing Ng



American Theatre Arts, Lamorbey House, Rose Bruford College, April 2014


The Happiness Compartment

  • Categories: Cast size 8 or more / Period / Set in the US
  • Cast: 5 women / 3 men
  • Setting: America 1962
  • Running Time: 2hrs 30 mins
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