Shannon Murphy’s production of Olivier Choinière’s Bliss is the most fun I’ve had in the theatre since Elling and Wonderful World of Dissocia at the STC earlier this year; a surreal, darkly comic fantasy about our modern culture of celebrity worship, and our morbid curiosity about human tragedies, which is fed by weekly glossy mags. Stories of anorexics, pill-poppers, sexual abuse victims, child prostitutes – lurid details of how “the other half” live, splashed in colour opposite advertisements for shoes or shampoo.
The culture Choinière is skewering is as cheap, bright and tasteless as the supermarket in which our story is set. Three employees drag themselves through the doors of the SupaMart for another day of drudgery: mindless mopping, stacking, spray-and-wiping, blank smiles and the monotonous beeping of checkouts. Last to arrive is Caro (Krew Boylan), an un-motivated bogan who is about to check out of reality.
As Caro’s day progresses, her daydream fantasies about Canadian popstar Celine Dion infect her reality, sucking her work-mates into supporting roles in a macabre fantasy that intertwines the lives of Celine and her “biggest fan” Isabelle (both played by Boylan), a sickly victim of physical, sexual and mental abuse.
As the first indication of how surreal things are about to get, the fluorescent lights suddenly switch to pink overheads, the actors stand in a row at the “check out” and give an orgiastic ensemble-rendition of Celine’s latest concert, re-enacting every detail as if it were some kind of pagan ritual – disturbing and hilarious.
Murphy has cast for comic sensibility, and Boylan and Matt Hardie are particularly irresistible, playing up to their stereotypes – disaffected-youth-slash-bitchy-gay “display assistant”, and introverted bogan-slash-manic devotee.
All four actors have to be very aware of what role they are in at any given moment, as they switch between “reality”, roles in Celine’s fantasy world, roles in Isabelle’s psychotic family, and heightened versions of themselves, in an alternate reality that might be Caro’s paranoia. Or it might be the polite masks of employers slipping to reveal what they really think.
The play comes full circle within 70 minutes, and you feel like you’ve been through an often hilarious, at times heart-breaking, darkly surreal fantasy. And not a dull moment in sight.