Reviewed by Kellie MacDonald in the theatre criticism class of Patrick Langston
Rope, razor blades, a bottle of pills — they’re not your typical punchlines, but this isn’t your typical comedy, either. Originally written in French by Rébecca Déraspe and translated in English by Leanna Brodie, You Are Happy leaves you with a sinking feeling in your gut that, as perfect as things seem, we, individually and collectively, are hurtling towards ruin. This absurd
dark comedy, directed by CBC alumnus Adrienne Wong, opens the Great Canadian Theatre Company’s 2017-2018 season.
After Jeremy’s (David Brown) latest suicide attempt, his sister, Bridget (Mélanie Beauchamp), concocts a plan to solve all of his problems: she’s going to find him a girlfriend. Then he will be out of her house and somebody else’s problem. Enter Chloe, (Katie Bunting): serially single, a waitress, living alone. At first Chloe is resistant to the arranged match, but soon finds herself relenting. It’s nice to shop for groceries together, to have sex, to split the hydro bill. That’s what happiness is, isn’t it?
Like Landline (Wong’s acclaimed 2014 immersive theatre piece), You Are Happy questions how humans truly connect with one another. It questions loneliness and isolation. It questions our honesty to strangers, and to ourselves. Beauchamp, Brown, and Bunting are a
well-oiled machine under Wong’s direction. Bunting especially nails the delivery on the show’s funniest and most depressing lines. Beauchamp is a powerhouse, delivering an electric
monologue about the virtues of being single and thrashing to heavy metal. Brown completes the trio with an innocent charm and undertones of something sinister. The tensest moments in the
show are heightened by the physical contrast in size between Bunting and Brown, reflecting the subtle ways in which men can intimidate unknowingly by encroaching on a woman’s personal
The rigidity of the sparse, revolving set (designed by John Doucet) and the cold, artificial glow of fluorescent lighting (designed by Chantal Labonté) underscore the artificiality of Jeremy
and Chloe’s romance. The perfect marriage of Doucet’s set and Labonté’s lighting design also allows for the creative use of shadowplay, again reinforcing themes of really knowing a person,
or just the impression of them. Sound Designer AL Connors complements the production with a mix of classic and contemporary love songs steeped in dramatic irony. Costume design by Vanessa Imeson is likewise adept, contrasting Bridget’s stark white tailored business formal dress, black leather belt, and designer heels with Chloe’s oversized dusty rose cardigan and ripped jeans.
You Are Happy asks big questions. Can we really love a person? Or is it the idea of that person that we fall in love with? Can that love sustain through months and years? Conquer the worst parts of ourselves? Is it so bad, being alone? In an age of instant messaging and worldwide travel, technology meant to bring us together, why do we feel lonelier than ever? All these and more are packed into a tight 70-minutes, no intermission. Ultimately, You Are Happy leaves it to audience to decide.