‘You Are Happy’ will leave you smiling

Michelle Mary Schaefer and Brendan Connell in You are Happy. (Photo by Matthew Freer)
Michelle Mary Schaefer and Brendan Connell in You are Happy. (Photo by Matthew Freer)

4 stars

If you agree that in an opera or ballet the storyline is incidental to the performance you will understand my reaction to “You Are Happy,” an interesting, innovative and thoroughly enjoyable production co-directed by Aaron Sawyer and Mary Kate Ashe at the Red Theater. It leaves you wanting more –  but in a good way.

For the record, Bridget who ironically claims to find happiness in her own company and solitude, wants her suicidal brother, Jeremy, to find happiness with a true love.

She trolls the local grocery markets in search of a likely mate which she finds in the person of Chloe, a highly suggestive and easily manipulated young woman who is also secretly seeking happiness in the form of a perfect life partner.

That is the premise for the action but what is more interesting is how this story is told.

Originally written in French by Rebecca Deraspe as “Deux ans de votre vie” which literally translates as two years of your life, it was translated to English by Leanna Brodie and then into American Sign Language by Kate Ashe, Michelle Mary Schaefer and Brendan Connelly with concept by Giulianna Marchese.

In this production the three actors Jeremy (Brendan Connelly), Bridget (Emily Turner), and Chloe (Michelle Mary Schaefer), essentially pantomime (for lack of a better word) and sign their performances while being shadowed by their doppelgangers (Bowie Foote, Elana Weiner-Kaplow and Sarah JK Shoemaker) who are respectively similarly dressed and recite the audible portion of the performance. It’s written primarily from the point-of-view of their own inner dialogue in a kind of storytelling/narrative style.

This could be performed as a Greek Chorus with the narrators off to the side but instead the audible actors move around the stage as co-equal performers as if they are operating in another dimension.

For this to work as seamlessly as it does, it is important for the performance to be carefully choreographed and adopt a certain rhythm in order to keep the sets of actors synchronized.

The result is a kind of dance with no music as they move around a box on an otherwise bare stage at a feverish pace.

Like an opera, Schaefer is the prima donna of this production with a winsome quality and expressive face featuring an outstanding smile. She makes you care about what is happening, aided in no small way by her co-performer, Shoemaker, who is Chloe’s voice. The two performers seem to meld into one cohesive whole.

In short this was a tight, well written, well directed and well acted piece of performance art that will have you experiencing theater in a new way.

DETAILS:  “You Are Happy” is at The Edge Off Broadway, 1133 W Catalpa Ave., Chicago, through Dec. 8, 2019.  For tickets visit Red Theater.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Note: Red Theater is expanding its accessibility efforts by adding a sensory-friendly performance on Sunday, November 24th at 3pm. Captioning will also be available for every performance upon request. Contact Accessibility Coordinator Bronwyn Schlaefer at accessibility@redtheater.org for more details.

 

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