Produced by: TheatreWorks
Featuring: Colman Domingo, Sharon Washington, Duane Boutté and Richard Prioleau
Directed by: Danny Scheie
When: June 5-30, 2013
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street (at Mercy), Mountain View, California
Tickets: $23-$73. Call 650-463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.
to be in this play
The press release credits Sharon Washington with creating the two roles she plays in "Wild With Happy" at the TheatreWorks New Works Festival in 2011, but the truth is she created the roles in 2010, when she and playwright Colman Domingo were both acting on Broadway in "The Scottsboro Boys."
That production was nominated for 12 Tony awards and didn't win any of them. Domingo was nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. (Don't worry; he's won plenty of other awards.)
When not performing in "The Scottsboro Boys," Domingo was typing away at what would become "Wild With Happy."
"He was working on it," recalled Washington during a phone conversation on Tuesday, "And he'd say, 'Sharon, come down here and read this.' So, I contributed.
"The greatest compliment is that he originally thought he would have two women for the two roles, then said, 'No, I want Sharon for both of these roles.'
"It's been a crazy ride. I'm so thrilled that Colman has trusted me with these characters."
"Wild With Happy" is the story of Gil, a 40-year-old actor who is reeling from a recent romantic break-up and from the death of his mother.
He goes to a funeral home -- where he meets a new romance, perhaps -- and opts for the basic cremation package, rather than the fancy and expensive coffin.
This offends his Aunt Glo, who climbs up five stories of fire escape ladders to yell at him about it. And to grab some of her late sister Adelaide's wardrobe.
Eventually Gil, Glo, the funeral director and another pal of Gil's take off on a road trip, Mom's ashes in a box, headed for Disney World, where she and Gil had a very nice time. Washington plays Glo and Gil's mother.
"It's a tour de force for me," Washington said. "The role of a lifetime, and I'm doing it with one of my best friends, who is the playwright."
But that business of Domingo "trusting" her with these characters?
Wise choice, Mr. Domingo.
When the play was performed in New York, Charles Isherwood of The New York Times wrote, "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." Read his review.
The ferociously funny Ms. Washington is quite charming on the phone, very smart (raised in libraries, undergrad at Dartmouth, MFA from Yale) and quick with a sincere laugh when the opportunity arises. And very professional.
She had a limited time to talk, before stage manager Karen Szpaller would come to the dressing room to yank her back to the stage at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
"She strikes fear in my heart!" Washington said. Joking, we think.
Washington has major acting credits. For instance, on stage, she played Lady Anne to Denzel Washington's "Richard III," Valeria to Christopher Walken's "Coriolanus" and Lady Helen in "Cymbeline" with Joan Cusack.
She's also done plenty of movie and TV work, but the role that caught my eye was in "The Long Kiss Goodnight," because it's one of my favorite movies. It was a small role -- she played the ex of Samuel L. Jackson's character -- but, like I said, one of my faves. You can read more about her excellent career on her website, at www.sharonwashington.com.
"Wild With Happy" marks her main stage debut at TheatreWorks, and from her dressing room at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, she said she was enjoying her stay in the Bay Area.
"I get it," she said. "I get it now."
Her husband, documentary filmmaker Chuck Schultz, calls her every day from their New York home, and reports on the weather there.
"It's always rainy or humid," Washington said. "Like I said, I get it now about the Bay Area."
She saw that review in The New York Times in which Isherwood sings her praises, although, "I don't normally look at reviews, I try not to read reviews. You're human, and it tends to influence you. It can be that great moment, or if it's bad, it hurts your feelings.
"But a review like that, it's pretty much on your Facebook wall as soon as it comes out. And I'm very happy with that -- it preps the audience more ... they're with you."
At TheatreWorks, Artistic Director Robert Kelley said he tells his casts not to read reviews till the production closes.
"I think that's a good policy," says Washington. "Reviews used to really serve a purpose. There were people who were really good critics, people who studied theater criticism. They were there with a critical eye, but supporting the work. Now, too much of the time, they are just talking about how people look."
Still, she said, the theater-going public needs reviews.
"They get people in the seats," she said.
She said she is enjoying doing this new production of "Wild With Happy," which is being directed by Bay Area theater mainstay Danny Scheie. The New York show was directed by Robert O'Hara.
"That's been interesting as well, to revisit characters with someone else's vision."
When the show closes, Washington plans to return to New York and continue working on the book she is writing about her unusual childhood, growing up in New York libraries in Manhattan. Living in libraries. An only child, alone (for the most part) in those big old libraries, surrounded by books.
"My childhood was fabulous," she said. "I was a complete daddy's girl. I look very much like my father, was very close to him.
"He didn't finish high school in South Carolina. He went in the Navy, met my mom, a New Yorker, and never looked back. He was very much a worker. Not a lot of education. He cooked, cleaned, every job known to man."
Getting the job as a janitor in that library very much worked out for his family.
"It was a really good job, a union job at the time, with benefits and free housing. A big deal, even in those days.
"It was really fortunate to have him get that job. It helped me form a lot of how I see the world. New York at the time was a true melting pot, in the early '70s, around that library -- Armenians, Jewish, Irish, all together. It was a great way to experience a lot of cultures."
Which started her down the road to performing.
"I saw so many characters, accents, voices. Mom would say, 'Come here, do Sophie from down the street.'"
And, Washington grew up in a Pentecostal church, which was filled with "all kinds of colorful characters - preachers, deacons, choir members -- I use a lot of that in 'Wild With Happy.' "Colman has written a lot of these characters, with those traits and characteristics, in the two characters I play."
Talking with Washington, I could not have guessed she was from New York. All that education -- private school on the East Side ("I was around people who spoke very well"), then Dartmouth and Yale.
But ask, and she can swing into that New York thing: "I think of my mutha!" she said. "You kind kind of, 'I TOLD HUH!'"
In 2009, Jim Dwyer of The New York Times wrote an excellent column about Washington's life, growing up in those libraries with her dad, her mom and her grandmother.
"The next day, I had a mailbox full of offers to write my story," Washington said. Instead, she has been working on it herself, as she had long thought about doing, and has landed a literary agent, Holly McGhee of Pippin Properties Inc., who is helping Washington mold the book.
"I thought it would be a good children's book," Washington said, "But what started coming out became more of an adult story."
And, of course, being an accomplished actor, she has a theater pal who is helping her maybe develop her autobiography into a one-woman show.
"I'm enjoying writing," said Washington. "It's different. I didn't think I would enjoy it, but it's a different way to express myself artistically. I story tell. That's the way it's coming out as I write. Story telling."