Review - Wild With Happy
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by Michael Dale
Don’t tell God, but for some people pop culture not even a century old can provide the same kind of spiritual inspiration and comfort as the ancient texts and traditions of organized religion. Just ask Adelaide, the central character of Colman Domingo’s wonderfully joyous, sweet and funny adventure, Wild With Happy. No, wait, you can’t. Because she’s dead when the play starts.
Adelaide was the mother of Gil, played by Domingo himself, a smartly sardonic New York Yalie who hasn’t set foot in church since he was ten years old and Adelaide, after finding her boyfriend cheating on her the night before, woke her sleepy boy one Sunday morning determined that they had to “get up and get us some Jesus!”
But this isn’t a play about grieving. It’s a bit more about how examining the life of someone who’s gone can affect you own life for the better. But that message only creeps in toward the end of director Robert O’Hara’s clever and imaginative production, when the series of sometimes farcical/sometimes sitcomy scenes start blending into something of heartwarming sentimentality.
Frustrated by the responsibility of having to make funeral arrangements – not to mention the flirtations and sales pitches of the attractive funeral director, Terry (Korey Jackson) – Gil considers cremation, to the horror of his sassy-tongued, traditional Aunt Glo. (“Black people don't do that! You don't do that unless a person was burned or mutilated or too fat to fit in a coffin!”) Sharon Washington doubles up on the female roles, projecting radiance as Adelaide in flashback moments and acting hilariously over-the-top as her domineering sister.
When Gil’s diva-ish friend Mo (Maurice McRae) learns of Adelaide’s past fascination with the Walt Disney version of Cinderella, he kidnaps his pal on an impromptu road trip to Orlando (with Terry and Aunt Glo hot in pursuit), finally settling into the room that Gil’s mother always dreamed of, Disney World’s Cinderella Suite.
Set and costume designer Clint Ramos, who spends much of the play dreaming up fun and unexpected ways to turn coffins into set pieces, presents a perfect interpretation of the Cinderella Suite as a cathedral of wonder, bringing out Domingo’s themes of faith and fantasy, spirituality and the magic of human imagination.
Wild With Happy is a delicious charmer about finding the heaven that’s right for you and forever keeping it in your heart.
The program for Transport Group’s premiere production of director Daniel Fish’s stage adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s essay, House For Sale, tells us that every performance is different, because each actor has apparently memorized the entire ninety minute piece and the sections of the text they perform each night are determined on the spot when the on-stage rows of lights display the color they’ve been assigned. Unfortunately, audience members don’t get programs until after the play is done, so if you’re not aware that the original piece was written in one voice you have no idea that each ensemble member represents the same person and may wind up spending too much time trying to figure out what the blinking lights are supposed to mean.
Frazen’s essay, published in his 2007 collection The Discomfort Zone, concerns the author’s childhood memories and more recent observations as he prepares the house he grew up in to be sold after his mother’s death. Unfortunately, Fish’s abstract approach to the material not only does nothing to enhance Frazen’s words, it alienates the audience from whatever value the text may contain.
The five-member ensemble (Rob Campbell, Lisa Joyce, Merritt Janson, Christina Rouner and Michael Rudko) occupies a lengthy playing area that the audience looks down on from seats on risers. A fourth wall lies horizontally between the stage and the seats and has a mounted video screen that projects directly upward and upside down from the audience’s vantage point. Long rows of folding chairs give the playing space the look of an airport waiting room. Inexplicably connected projections, like the bloody conclusion to the film Bonnie and Clyde, are shown on the upstage wall.
The play begins with each actor taking turns delivering the same monologue, speeding up each turn until the words are gibberish. They sometimes sing the text. There’s a point where they speak in unison while all jog furiously in place. Soon after, there is text where each actor speaks one word at a time. One cast member is dragged across the length of the stage while speaking of economic matters. Another dons a Minnie Mouse costume while telling of a family trip to Disney World.
What is done is done very well, but what the production has to do with the text is baffling.