You Are Happy offers parallel plays | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

You Are Happy offers parallel plays 

American Sign Language adds a cunning layer of commentary to Red Theater Chicago's dark romantic fable.

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click to enlarge You Are Happy

You Are Happy

Matthew Freer

Jeremy wants a girlfriend more than anything, but can't get one. So naturally, he hides in his sister Bridget's closet with a rope, planning to end it all. He changes his mind at the last minute—and goes for the razor instead, just as Bridget opens the door. He survives, but Bridget (who is avowedly proud of her single status) decides (to quote Todd Rungren), "We Gotta Get You a Woman." So she basically tricks Chloe, a young woman she meets in a supermarket, into signing a contract agreeing to become Jeremy's lover.

Does this sound vaguely incel and creepy to you? Well, Rébecca Déraspe's You Are Happy (originally entitled Deux Ans dans Votre Vie—or Two Years of Your Life), now in a production with Red Theater Chicago, doesn't spend much time making us feel comfortable with its premise—no more so than Elaine May did in Not Enough Rope, her 1964 one-act in which a depressed woman tries to borrow a noose from the man across the hall in a naked plea for attention.

Codirector Mary Kate Ashe, Brendan Connelly (who plays Jeremy), and Michelle Mary Schaefer (who plays Chloe) provide further layers to this dark little fable by translating Leanna Brodie's English version into American Sign Language. (Bowie Foote, Sarah JK Shoemaker, and Elana Weiner-Kaplow provide spoken-word dialogue alongside Connelly, Schaefer, and Emily Turner's Bridget, though Turner also speaks.)

Ashe and Aaron Sawyer's staging is minimalist, which makes the heightened parallel play between the ASL and the voiced speech (not to mention supertitles) serve as commentary on the delusions of equality in coupledom. Whose "voice" is really being heard as conflicts arise? Connelly brings a little-boy-lost quality to Jeremy, but that can't quite overcome (nor, I suspect, is it meant to) the character's essentially manipulative nature. The rise of incel culture makes that impossible to ignore. But the cast deliver solid committed performances, often with a deadpan demeanor that makes the story's dark absurdism even clammier.  v

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