There are some things in life you can count on. Birthdays will tick by like clockwork, a good cake recipe won’t fail and the young will chase their future while elders reminisce. But combining staple observations about everyday existence, as the playwright Noah Haidle does with a cosmic hand in “Birthday Candles,” does not guarantee they’ll rise into more than mollifying fluff.
The fine line between distilling so-called ordinary life and whipping up airy clichés is all but dissolved in this replay of one woman’s birthday over the course of many decades. From year to year, we’re always in the hours before the party, when Ernestine (earnestly played by Debra Messing) is preparing the golden cake that her mother teaches her to make on her 17th birthday.