By David Currie
“I don’t know if I’m losing my mind but it seems to me we’re good.”
A contemptible and base situation, three loveable but flawed characters, an overwhelmingly good sound and land scape with great jokes. That’s what’s on display in You Are Happy, the Great Canadian Theatre Company’s season opener. Written by Rébecca Déraspe with a translation from Leanna Brodie, the story broadly takes a similar trajectory to Dangerous Liaisons. Imagine the depth and focus of awe of Dangerous Liasons (or Cruel Intentions for my fellow 90s film cultists) with a nimble and charming absurdist’s touch.
Déraspe’s story is all about orchestration in a chaotic world. She delves into a situation riddled with ethically dubious and down right dastardly aspects and then slowly moves her storytelling lens further and further back. As the audience’s comfort grows and distance begins to set in, the world Déraspe is playing with is no longer scary but rather is tenuous – precious even – and the only fear the audience has is that the delicate love and fragile characters on stage will break before the 70 minute run time is completed.
This play is at times painfully funny, with the three wildly different comedic styles of Mélanie Beauchamp, David Brown, and Katie Bunting forming the brass section in an orchestra. What makes the play work so well is the support and genius of their collaborators, the inimitable soundscape of AL Connors (sound design), the vibrant pallet of Vanessa Imeson (costume design), the Karshesque brilliance of Chantal Labonté (lighting design), and the layered kinetic genius of John Doucet (set design). Together these people form an orchestra who never for one instant forgets that the audience is there to have fun.
“It makes me laugh to smell myself.”
Not one of 70 minutes of uncomfortable delight could have occurred without the vision and clear headedness of director Adrienne Wong. She holds all the elements together so certainly, allowing the work of every member of her team to be highlighted and elevated over and over again through out the play.
Fittingly, You Are Happy‘s main exploration is that of orchestration. The play asks how human beings plan, attempt to control and ultimately stack their lives on top of those around them. Through the script’s absurdist frame, the audience discovers the eminence of what the characters have and hopefully reaffirms something about their own life and interactions with each other.
You Are Happy runs until October 8 at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre, home of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. Tickets cost $24–58 online and at the box office. The first Sunday of every GCTC production is a pay-what-you-can performance. Those tickets are available in person at the box office.