Review: All Our Happy Days Are Stupid

ALL OUR HAPPY DAYS ARE STUPID by Sheila Heti (Heti/Suburban Beast/World Stage). At Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queens Quay West)..


ALL OUR HAPPY DAYS ARE STUPID by Sheila Heti (Heti/Suburban Beast/World Stage). At Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queens Quay West). To Saturday (February 14) at 8 pm, added performance Friday 11 pm. $25-$35. 416-973-4000, harbourfrontcentre.com/worldstage. Rating: NNN

Sheila Hetis play All Our Happy Days Are Stupid sat for a decade without being produced and later helped inspire a beststelling novel, How Should A Person Be?

After a brief workshop run at Videofag in 2013, the play gets a fine staging as the season opener for World Stage, thanks to producing company Suburban Beast and its director, Jordan Tannahill, who collaborates here with Erin Brubacher. Fans of Hetis work will love it, though the eclectic, often absurdist script wont be to everyones taste.

Happy Days follows two North American families from the same town, the Oddis and the Sings, on separate vacations in Paris. At least theyre separate at the start, but when schoolmates Jenny Oddi (Lorna Wright) and Daniel Sing (Nicholas Hune-Brown) recognize each other during a parade through the streets of the French capital, their parents are pulled together for the first of several uncomfortable meetings.

And what parents they are. The senior Oddis (Naomi Skwarna and Alexander Carson) are so fixated and wound up that they almost squeak with tension when their individual patterned behaviour is disturbed. Their counterparts, the Sings (Becky Johnson and Jon McCurley) are not quite as brittle well, at least he isnt, but Mrs Sing has a sharp edge that cuts Mrs. Oddi just the wrong way.

Dont look for a clear narrative arc in the two-act play. Heti focuses on one figure and then another seemingly random and surreal episodes take centre stage one after another. The first act focuses on Daniels disappearance, the second on the relationship between the two mothers, who escape to Cannes to follow their respective dreams. By the end, the narrative returns to Paris and then goes elsewhere, with a hint that history is likely to repeat itself.

Some of the evening is entertaining in a kaleidoscopic fashion, the unpredictability of the action as intriguing as the black-and-white design by Rae Powell (wonderful cut-out sets) and Juliann Wilding (costumes that are just as clever).

While not all the performers are actors either by training or instinct, Tannahill inspires a family camaraderie. Understanding the high stakes that the characters play for, the artists contribute to the sense of an adventure on which everyone, those onstage and in the audience, embarks. When some of the 13 performers arent in a scene, they sit on the sidelines watching the action along with us, visibly enjoying what they see.

There are a few standout performances, too, including Wrights curious, determined Jenny, Henri Faberge as rock star Johnny Rockets, Michael McManus as a sex-driven man in a bear suit and Kayla Lorette in a variety of roles. Her turn as an old man who loves to dance and hold onto happy memories is first-rate.

At the witty centre of the production are the two mothers. The white-wigged Skwarna and the initially haughty Johnson, whose Mrs. Sing slowly reveals her need to connect with the aloof, judgmental Ms. Oddi, score in every one of their scenes, separately and together.

Under Tannahills direction, the pair are humorously distinguished not just by their actions but also their voices: Skwarna, despite her characters caustic lines, uses an intentionally flat delivery thats in marked contrast to Johnsons brash, swooping utterances. Ones as flat as a prairie landscape, the others like a roller coaster forever rising and falling.

The quirky production travels to New Yorks experimental performance space The Kitchen after its brief Toronto run.

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