Review: I Want To Be Happy
I must confess, I’ve always been a fan of Joel Tobeck, so when I saw his name in the cast for ‘I Want To Be Happy,’ I was keen to check it out. Coupled with the promise of a surrealist premise exploring the parallel lives of a lab scientist and his guinea pig, I couldn’t resist attending.
The play brilliantly employs stage design as a narrative tool, with the right side of the stage serving as Paul’s (Joel Tobeck) perspective—a sterile room dominated by a small cage. On the left, an oversized version of this cage houses Binker (Jennifer Ludlum), who scuttles around a steel-framed enclosure, that is not too dissimilar from the lab. This dual perspective style continued into other scenes and supported the constant interplay of Paul and Binker’s parallel storylines, offering a unique way to experience both perspectives simultaneously. However, at times, it proved a tad challenging to follow during action sequences.
Jennifer Ludlum’s portrayal of Binker is nothing short of delightful. She embodies the gestures and poise of a wide-eyed and bewildered rodent from the moment she graces the stage. Her twitching nose and darting eyes had the audience in fits of laughter before she even uttered a word.
Jennifer’s depiction of adoration for her mate, a 6-foot-tall Guinea Pig named ‘MyOne,’ is utterly hilarious. The play features many fun moments like this including the absurd use of electronic toy animals darting across the stage. And I appreciated how the absurdity is beautifully punctuated with moments of satire throughout the performance.
A recurring theme throughout the story revolves around how we can coexist with others yet fail to engage with them meaningfully. Paul observes Binker for hours each day but remains oblivious to her true emotional state. In the opening scene, he reports “bright eyes, healthy coat, Blinker is happy,” when Binker is anything but content. In turn, Binker pays no heed to Paul’s extensive monologues about his crumbling marriage and his feeble attempts to salvage it.
I do feel that the play’s duration of 90 minutes could have been trimmed. I was also disappointed by the use of an e-cigarette as a prop. It is an overused trope in movies to symbolise stress – usually for the purpose of Big Tobacco product placement. And for this story, it seemed highly improbable that a scientist would be puffing away in their lab.
Ultimately, ‘I Want To Be Happy’ is an enjoyable production that also prompts reflection on animal rights—an entertaining exploration of parallel lives and human-animal relationships.