Pamela Mala Sinha’s Happy Place makes its world premiere at Soulpepper Theatre. Happy Place was born out of early drafts of Sinha’s first solo play Crash, and it follows six incredibly unique women, all living together under one roof in a hospital for women’s suffering. All have attempted some form of suicide in response to different events in their lives, and all deal with the effects of this response in a myriad of ways.
Louise (Deborah Drakeford) watches over and counsels the six women, making sure they feel comfortable in the new environment in which they are living, and that they make progress on their long and difficult road to recovery.
Mildred (Diane D’Aquila), Joyce (Caroline Gillis), Nina (Liisa Repo-Martell), and Kathleen (Pamela Mala Sinha) have all been at the hospital for some time. The play opens with Samira (Oyin Oladejo) arriving at the facility, followed shortly by Rosemary (Irene Poole).
They are watched around the clock by Louise (and her staff, although this is only implied and never shown). Not only are tabs kept on the women, but they are, for their own safety, kept in an almost jail-like atmosphere. Over the course of the play, the tension between Louise and the six women becomes palpable. Quiet remarks about the constant checkups on what they are doing quickly turn into angry outbursts over the way they feel that they are being treated.
This tension goes hand-in-hand with the painful memories these women struggle to keep to themselves. Over the course of the play, each woman carefully reveals details about the incidents that brought her to the women’s hospital.
At first, it feels like a game between them, as they are all hungry for gossip. This is especially obvious with Joyce, a woman so obsessed with finding out the stories of the other patients that she inevitably begins to push them away with her poking and prodding. Each woman shares what happens to her in a different way, sometimes using subtle social cues and other times using bombastic displays of emotion.
The intense emotional anxiety these women feel is accentuated by a startling set, clever in its design and purpose. The walls are a blank, dreary grey, with three entrances and a handful of pieces, such as a television, a phone, a kitchen and a window. Minimal furniture consisting of very basic and bland couches, tables or chairs create a sense of uneasiness and sterility that seems to amplify the conditions these women are forced to endure.
Overall, Happy Place is engrossing, funny, and at times, gut-wrenching. There are times when you feel uncomfortable looking in on not just the situation these women are in, but also the revelations they share with Louise or the other patients.
You want to look away but you also want to know about them, much like the women themselves. It shows that human beings are not solitary creatures and no matter what these women have gone through or are going through, there is always someone else to share fragile moments with.
Happy Place runs at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until Oct. 17. Visit www.soulpepper.ca for more information.
photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann