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Happy Life

A head-scratchingly abstruse play that puts Theater of the Absurd through the David Mamet grinder.

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Priyanka Arya Krishnan as Cat Mermaid and Sagan Chen as Hermit in a scene from Kathy Ng’s “Happy Life” at the Walkerspace (Photo credit: Julia Weinberg)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

A tiny, shabby apartment is the symbolic center of Kathy Ng’s annoyingly enigmatic play, Happy Life at the Walkerspace.  Taking its inspiration from the horrific real life Hello Kitty murder in Hong Kong, the play, produced by The Hearth, buries the dreadful details of the actual crime in a gory nightmare of and exaggerated language and characters.

A catlike creature with a forked tail, Cat Mermaid (a vivacious, if painfully overwrought Priyanka Arya Krishnan), emerges from the bathroom profanely going on and on about the worrisome state of the apartment plus a fantasy about a giant octopus (an image which comes to life late in Happy Life).

Real estate agent, Ox (Viet Vo, a solidly built man effectively playing a bowl of Jello), pounds on the door of Apartment 17.

After apologizing profusely (“Sorry, sorry!”)—a habit Ox has irritatingly internalized—he ushers Birdy (a lovely, soft-voiced Amy Chang), a perspective tenant, into the dingy domicile (designed on the cheap by Lily Guerin).  He makes a point to that the flat is lemony clean which she barely believes.  He also adds a morbid bit of history:  There was a murder/suicide in the place which included boiling of body parts and sewing the corpse’s head onto a Hello Kitty doll—hence the Cat Mermaid!

Amy Chang as Birdy and Rachel Yong as Mouse in a scene from Kathy Ng’s “Happy Life” at the Walkerspace (Photo credit: Julia Weinberg)

As the Cat Mermaid gorges on octopus tentacles she is lambasted by the gender fluid, foul-mouthed Hermit (Sagan Chen, tough and believable under surreal circumstances) who appears on the apartment floor.  Hermit has a terrible association with Apartment 17, the doorknob to the bathroom and a noose. The two discuss the future incarnations of Hermit, ideas he quickly pooh-poohs.

Birdy returns only to find lots of dead birds. She is harassed by Hermit with borderline obscene references.  Their conversation goes on and on.

Soon Mouse (a charming, smooth Rachel Yong) appears with the ubiquitous Hermit to discuss tentacle porn, amongst other subjects.  Mouse is an underemployed porn writer/editor.

Other bizarre conversations follow including a kaffeeklatsch with Mouse and Birdy who is showing off her dilapidated flat.  Cat Mermaid asks Birdy, if she is willing to rent out her womb, but her womb is already occupied courtesy of her ex-husband.

Amy Chang as Birdy and Viet Vo as Ox in a scene from Kathy Ng’s “Happy Life” at the Walkerspace (Photo credit: Julia Weinberg)

As Ng’s play progresses, the many fantastic stories of the equally fantastic characters sort of come together in a series of revelations. How are they interrelated?  And, do they really exist? Despite its roots in reality, none of Ng’s flights of fancy makes sense.

Ng has a far-reaching imagination and spins the many stories and characters of her Happy Life with admiral skill and abandon.  But it is just too heavy-handedly, head-scratchingly abstruse, not to mention unnecessarily full of foul language that somehow doesn’t jibe with the characters.  This is Theater of the Absurd put through the David Mamet grinder.

Alicia J. Austin’s costumes, particularly the one for the exotic Cat Mermaid, shows some imagination as does the lighting design of Evan C. Anderson.

Director Kat Yen does what she could to make sense of the play but ultimately fails to tame it.

Happy Life (through August 6, 2022)

The Hearth Theater Company

Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.thehearththeater.com

Running time: two hours and 45 minutes including one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (446 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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