Playwright: Rebecca Deraspe; English translation: Leanna Brodie; American Sign Language translation: Mary Kate Ashe, Michelle Mary Schaefer, Brendan Connelly
At: Red Theater at The Edge Off Broadway, 1133 W. Catalpa Ave. Tickets: RedTheater.org; $10-$30
Since 2015, Red Theater has made accessibility a cornerstone of its operating mission. And this inclusivity is reflective in its contemplative and deconstructed Chicago premiere of Quebecois playwright Rebecca Deraspe's 2011 comic drama You Are Happy.
Actually, Deraspe's play was originally titled Deux Ans de Votre Vie ( Two Years of Your Life ). But English translator Leanna Brodie renamed it You Are Happy.
Red Theater goes a step further in the play's translation journey by making American Sign Language ( or captioning ) as a default language alongside spoken English. That's because two of the leading characters are played by deaf or hard-of-hearing actors.
You Are Happy has a deliberately simplistic plot: Chloe ( Michelle Mary Schaefer ) is an insecure waitress who gets manipulated into becoming the girlfriend of a graphic designer named Jeremy ( Brendan Connely ).
It is Jeremey's assuredly single and hearing sister, research analyst Bridget ( Emily Turner ), who is the matchmaking mastermind. Bridget's romantic wrangling stems from her belief that a girlfriend will stop her brother's repeated ( and so annoying! ) suicide attempts.
In You Are Happy, Deraspe questions whether couple-hood truly brings about happiness. She also delves into the randomness of life, plus she questions whether honest communication can really lead to unending romantic bliss.
Co-directors Aaron Sawyer and Mary Kate run with the play's existential bent ( and Giulianna Marchese's production concept ) by presenting everything as barebones. The co-directors deconstruct things further by having the characters shadowed by spoken English translators. ( Sarah JK Shoemaker is Chloe's Voice, Bowie Foote is Jeremy's Voice and Elana Weiner-Kaplow is Bridget's Voice. )
These voices largely function in the same way in that American Sign Language interpreters get trotted out and pushed to the side for some theaters' special accessibility performances. Yet these "voice actors" also get to interact now and then, and they appear to read out stage directions as part of the overall text.
All these levels of communication are simultaneously distancing and enthralling for You Art Happy. Yet one wishes for more physical comedy now and then from the performers.
Clearly You Are Happy can become a laugh riot if its actors dig into the quirky nature of Brodie's translation of Deraspe's sometimes offbeat dialogue and nonsensical situations. As played at Red Theater, things are mostly straightforward and seriously presentational rather than being awkwardly situational slapstick fun.
So Red Theater deserves kudos for its assured and inclusive take on You Are Happy. Yet one wishes that the quirkiness could have been ratcheted up with more comic physicality to contrast with the existential uncertainty that pervades the play and this production.