Off Broadway Theater Review: WILD WITH HAPPY (The Public Theater)

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by Harvey Perr on October 30, 2012

in Theater-New York

FORGET YOUR TROUBLES.  COME ON, GET HAPPY.

When the lights go up on Wild With Happy, we see Colman Domingo, in cool shades and wearing his best Paris-Is-Burning attitude, speak his opening line; and it is so hilarious one can’t help but wonder if he can ever top it.  But what follows assures us that there is no end to Domingo’s comic inventiveness.  Gil, the name of Domingo’s character, attends church with his mother to “find Jay-sus,” and watches as she is swept away by as fast and funny a send up of a revival meeting as you can imagine.  Off Broadway Theater Review, Wild With Happy by Colman Domingo, the Public TheatreRobert O’Hara, who directed at a sound barrier-breaking pace, actually celebrates the play’s scattershot and slaphappy rhythm.  Back in the present, Gil, whose life is something of a shambles, has to face his mother’s death with a mixture of guilt and pain and a pocketbook that balks at the price of the coffins offered by the funeral director.  Armed finally with an urn filled with her ashes, Gil is taken on a mad pilgrimage by his best friend, Mo, who is even sassier than Gil, and followed by his Aunt Glo and the guy from his funeral parlor who, after a sexual adventure with Gil, has fallen more than a little bit in love.

Off Broadway Theater Review, Wild With Happy by Colman Domingo, the Public TheatreThe four caskets on display turn into all sorts of props in the clever set design by Clint Ramos, aided and abetted by Aaron Rhyne’s projections, which include turning the entire stage into the most verdant of public parks.  It all ends up in Disney World, in a delightfully illuminated and perfectly silly Cinderella suite, where dreams are wishes your heart makes.

(In House for Sale, also playing Off Broadway, a man tries to sell his mother’s house and ends up in Disney World, where he and his mother share pleasant memories, just as Gil and his late mother have.  Is this a trend?)

Off Broadway Theater Review, Wild With Happy by Colman Domingo, the Public Theatre

There is no need to tell you more since it is in the surprises along the way that keep us from taking too seriously the inordinate number of loose ends in the plot, all of it juicily played by its freewheeling cast which includes Maurice McRae as the hands-on-hips Mo; and Korey Jackson as Gil’s potential new boyfriend; and by Domingo himself, who is never less than delightful, even when his mood sours (which is frequent).  But lest you think that Wild With Happy was Domingo’s chance to write a vehicle for his own bristling talents, you will discover instead that, in a very generous mood, he has practically given the show to Sharon Washington, Off Broadway Theater Review, Wild With Happy by Colman Domingo, the Public Theatrewho, in the dual roles as Gil’s mom Adelaide and the nutty but sane-at-heart Aunt Glo, creates a sensation by taking advantage of every comic challenge she has been handed.  The last few minutes lapse into an extended bit of sappiness that suggests a herd of elephants stampeding into a cage of butterflies.  But you might forget it just as I have, because the memory of Ms. Washington will once again have you beaming.  It is she who is truly wild, and it is she who makes us truly happy.  Her cohorts seem to be having a good time just sharing the stage with her.  You will be jumping out of your seat with unalloyed laughter each time she opens her mouth and roars her way through the most brilliant arias that Colman Domingo has written for Wild With Happy.

photos by Joan Marcus

Wild With Happy
at the Public Theater in New York
scheduled to end on November 18, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.publictheater.org/

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