by Ron Finnigan
Edited by Brie McFarlane
You Are Happy is an English translation of the Rébecca Déraspe play “Deux ans de votre vie” currently being presented at GCTC until October 8th, 2017. Upon entering the theatre, I was struck by the unusual set design which reminded me of a solved Rubik’s Cube with the white side facing the audience and all the other sides missing. This metaphor became only stronger as the entire set piece was periodically rotated and the story takes place inside and around this space without ceilings or walls, except for those in our imagination. Even before the actors appear, the cube implied to me that issues were resolved since the white side was completed, but, once we are inside the box and as the white panels disappear, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Jeremy is the dysfunctional brother who cheerfully tells us in the opening scene that he is attempting suicide. However, his incompetence in tying a hangman’s knot and then in trying to open a plastic package of razor blades frustrates his purpose. His sister, Bridget, discovers him in her bedroom closet before he can complete the deed. The story then focuses on the loneliness and unhappiness of the characters. Love is missing from Jeremy‘s life and his sister determines that finding a girlfriend is the solution. Bridget begins her quest and the cube rotates to indicate we have started to work towards one part of the solution.
Bridget finds her victim in a supermarket when she spots Chloe, and she invites her to her office with the promise of free razor blades, if she completes some reports on her use and experience with the product. The cube rotates – another piece is moved into play. Chloe shows up at Bridget‘s office and is questioned. The inquiry becomes increasingly personal, but Chloe is hired to do the research and signs a contract. Like the devil who has just purchased a soul, Bridget gleefully reveals that Chloe has just signed a contract to find a lover within 30 days, or Bridget would be at liberty to find one for her. Another set rotation, another piece in place.
The scene shifts to Chloe’s apartment where Jeremy is already waiting for her to arrive home. Chloe shows up and is surprised to find Jeremy there. Having suspended our belief that a devoted sister can casually entice a single girl discovered in a supermarket to date her suicidal brother, it is perhaps not much of a stretch to accept that a young single woman would come home and find a strange man in her kitchen without becoming hysterically upset and not wanting to immediately call the police. Perhaps both Jeremy and Chloe are so lonely, so isolated that our own knee-jerk reactions don’t apply.
Until the play reveals that Jeremy hangs out with his friends every week to watch hockey and Chloe also has girlfriends that meet on a regular basis for girls’ night out, I had felt that they were two hermits whose isolation led them to react differently than normal people do to break-ins. Or perhaps the director, Adrienne Wong, just wants to play with our expectations that rotating the cube is symbolizing a final resolution when it is really misdirection. As Jeremy and Chloe develop their relationship, Bridget lurks in the background, like the devil waiting to harvest the souls. She appears obsessed with the couple and completely oblivious to what appears to be a very shallow existence and empty life. She narrates her speculations as to whether the couple will live happily, or not alluding to the cycle repeating itself, like the Rubik’s cube that, once solved, is mixed up again and then solved again, and so on forever.
The simplicity of the play’s set is enhanced by the actors’ narration of what is going on or what has happened between the scenes. The audience has to fill in the missing actions, props, and dialogue with their imagination. Breaking the fourth wall is appropriately mirrored by the missing walls of the large cube set on stage. As the actors move more and more outside the cube, perhaps Ms. Déraspe is asking us to think more outside the box and to look for untraditional solutions to an unconventional problem. I applaud the transformative set and lighting which enhanced that feeling of change by providing a dynamic interplay of multiple settings and locations without the trappings of traditional theatre.
I enjoyed the play, although I found that the players constantly talking to the audience and explaining what was going on was distracting and prevented me from feeling more immersed in the story. Perhaps it was the intent of the playwright to keep us at arm’s length and allow us to be observers but not participants, not unlike watching an episode on the boob tube. Perhaps we were only meant to feel that temporary satisfaction of solving the Rubik’s Cube only to have someone mix it all up, forcing us to start all over again. At the end of the play, all the white panels have disappeared so that the cube is completely transparent on all sides. Even here we must question whether this is the final solution or just another puzzle to solve.
The performers are outstanding. Mélanie Beauchamp in the role of Bridget plays the manic sister whose odd approach to match-making actually works in the play, albeit a far stretch from reality. Her convincing expressions, body-language and awkward dancing skills made me love the character, though I was disappointed that she did not find true love before the end of the play.
My heart went out to Katie Bunting in the role of Chloe. She expressed a vulnerability that makes me feel that I want to hug her and tell her everything will be alright. That she seems to hold her own against Bridget and Jemery’s manipulation and possibly find genuine happiness makes me feel a little better about the siblings’ scheming.
David Brown in the role of Jeremy seems a little too cheerful for someone who is constantly contemplating suicide, but we should remember that suicidal people don’t always appear depressed as we might expect. Comedians, like Robin Williams, were cheerful and joking before they took their lives. Mr. Brown’s performance matched the caliber and quality of the other performers and the three of them made a believable tableau of an interesting and captivating story.
My biggest kudos go to John Doucet, the set designer and Chantal Labonté, the lighting designer. The play is worth seeing just to see this amazing rotating set and lighting which have all these technical little surprises, like the projected silhouettes. This illustrates how the theatre experience, with minimal special effects and creative lighting, can still amaze and wow the audience, providing a satisfying and thrilling experience.
Ron Finnigan retired in 2015 and decided to go back to university to pursue and Arts/English BA. He is currently enrolled as a third-year undergraduate at Carleton University with a focus on theatre drama this year. His goal is to graduate in 2020 and then perhaps, like the Rubik’s Cube, start all over again.