Bay Area Theater Feature: WILD WITH HAPPY (TheatreWorks / Mountain View Performing Arts Center)

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by Tony Frankel on June 3, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


After a funeral many years ago, a group of my buddies all declared their desire to be cremated when the time comes. Shockingly, however, all four of us avowed to have our ashes scattered in the same place: The Magic Kingdom. There was no talk of illegality, just an acknowledgement that after death we wanted to be in the happiest Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema Bay Area Preview: Theatreworks' "Wild with Happy."place on earth – or, at least, the place that brought us the most happiness. The only disagreement occurred when one friend asked us to dump his remains in Snow White’s Wishing Well. I asked him, “Do you really want to hear “I’m Wishing” over and over for eternity while people dump pennies on you?”

Ultimately, we laughed it off, acknowledging that no matter where we ended up (three wanted to be in Disneyland, one in Disney World), our gritty remnants would either be trampled, swept up, or get caught in a water filter, after which we would end up in a trash heap with unpopped kernels and baby wipes. The subject was dropped, but I remained haunted by the conversation for some time, especially given that I knew that our happiness was ultimately both an illusion and a choice – and, in the case of The Magic Kingdom, most certainly did not come free. I knew in my heart that the whole premise was as whimsical as Fantasyland, but it did bring levity to the topic of death and grieving.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema Bay Area Preview: Theatreworks' "Wild with Happy."Since that exchange, I dreamed that someone  in the theater would use this subject involving theme park interment. Well, some dreams do come true, because Wild with Happy, Colman Domingo’s absurdist-flavored play which explores the bizarre comedy that lies within death and healing, will have its West Coast premiere at TheatreWorks this week. It’s a circuitous journey for Domingo, whose play-in-progress was received shortly before TheatreWorks’ 2011 New Works Festival, where it was given a staged reading. The results were so positive that TheatreWorks added the play to this current season, but that was before the Public Theatre in New York got wind of it and produced it Off Broadway last October. The New York Times called it “a sweet, funny and forgivably sentimental new play,” which is high praise if you know Charles Isherwood.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema Bay Area Preview: Theatreworks' "Wild with Happy."The synopsis is this: Gil (Colman Domingo) has returned from New York City to his home in Philadelphia to make arrangements for his mother’s funeral. His return brings back memories of his childhood as he and his Aunt Glo (Sharon Washington) sort through his mother’s things and spar over how to handle her memorial. Gil goes to the funeral home where, despite family tradition, he opts for cremation. He also falls for the funeral director, Terry (Richard Prioleau). When Gil’s flamboyant friend Mo (Duane Boutté) arrives from New York, he “kidnaps” Gil and takes him on a road trip to help him come to terms with his loss. Pursued by Terry and a furious Aunt Glo, they finally arrive at the place where Gil’s mother was most happy.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema Bay Area Preview: Theatreworks' "Wild with Happy."Colman Domingo will again star as Gil, and Sharon Washington reprises her role as Aunt Glo. The NY Times had this to say about Washington: “And don’t forget to bring the sunscreen. Giving a breakout performance as Aunt Glo, the ferociously funny Ms. Washington blazes so brightly it could come in handy.” Washington had previously appeared with Domingo on Broadway in The Scottsboro Boys; for his role as Mr. Bones in that same production, Domingo was nominated for a Tony Award. Helming the production at TheatreWorks is Danny Scheie, who directed Domingo’s first play, Up Jumped Springtime, at San Francisco’s Theatre Rhinoceros. The production will have lighting design by David Lee Cuthbert (who did an amazing job on A Doll’s House at the Old Globe), sound design by Brendan Aanes (The Aliens at SF Playhouse), scenic design by Erik Flatmo (November at A.C.T.), and costume design by Brandin Barón (Sweet Bird of Youth at La Jolla Playhouse).

By the way, the last time I visited Snow White’s Wishing Well, I tossed in a penny and wished that I didn’t need my remains discarded in a fake well to know eternal happiness. I’m still working on it.

publicity photos by Mark Kitaoka

Wild with Happy
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
June 5 – 30, 2013
for tickets, call (650) 463-1960 or visit

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