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July 27, 2022
In 'Happy Life,' Hello Kitty and tentacle porn are an unlikely recipe for success
Review of ‘Happy Life’
Priyanka Arya Krishnan and Sagan Chen in Happy Life. Credit: Julia Weinberg.

Kathy Ng's Happy Life, directed by Kat Yen at Walkerspace, is not a show for everyone. Nor is it a show for the faint of heart. But if kinky, morbid humor is your thing, well guess what, it's your lucky day, because this is a kinky, violent, tentacle-porno masterpiece.

Yes, there are tentacles. There's a dead sex worker trussed up like a sexy Hello Kitty mermaid. There's a dead trans boy who wants to reincarnate as a soldier ant. There's an anxious real estate agent who gets off on kinky phone calls with ghosts. And there's a pregnant woman, still healing from an abusive relationship, who can't seem to move into her new apartment.

Sound strange? That's because it is. Presented by The Hearth Theater Company, Happy Life is about as bizarre as they come. Brutal murders, desperate suicides, and disturbing sexual acts are thrown around as if they carry no weight, and kinks and death are played for laughs. Almost nothing is straightforward, civilized, or normal. The lines are odd, the characters who speak them even odder. The whole thing feels rather like a strange, savage nightmare--a nightmare we enjoy while knowing full well we shouldn't.

For despite its savagery, morbidity, and kinkiness, Happy Life holds a surreal charm. It's refreshingly unique, wickedly funny, and often downright adorable. Though it appears to make light of tragedy, it's not callous. There's a softness to the characters in spite of their harsh circumstances. A battered, vulnerable woman turns dead birds into curtains. A tortured and murdered sex worker forms a tender connection with a boy who committed suicide. Two women fantastize about making love to octopuses. (Bizarre, yes. Boring, never.)

Priyanka Arya Krishnan, who plays Cat Mermaid, the ghost of a murdered sex worker (the play is partly inspired by the 1999 Hello Kitty murder), is in many ways the vital element that enables this strange show to succeed. Wearing a jumbled costume that includes a mermaid tail, skeleton leggings, long pink nails, and cat ears, she establishes a rapport with the audience almost as soon as she opens her mouth, and keeps it going for the rest of the play. In her single greatest scene, she recounts the story of her brutal captivity and murder as if presenting on a cooking or interior decorating show. (At intermission, I overheard someone say: "I don't know if I should laugh or not.")

While it's not perfect--the episodic, montage-style scenes are lovely but can sometimes feel a bit segmented--and it occasionally made my stomach turn, there's enough here to love to make Happy Life well worth a viewing, and to make me excited for whatever Kathy Ng chooses to write next.

'Happy Life' runs July 22 through August 6 at Walkerspace (46 Walker St). For more info and to purchase tickets, see the link below:

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Written by: Erin Kahn
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