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.
Read John Orr's interview with Sharon Washington.
Read Robert Hurwitt's interview with Colman Domingo in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Read Karen D'Souza's interview with Colman Domingo in the San Jose Mercury News.
Read Robert Hurwitt's review in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Colman Domingo's "Wild With Happy" is a symphony of gallows humor. Four characters who are all affected by the death of a fifth. And they all give us reason to laugh.
But the maestro of laughing in the face of a tragic situation is Gil, played by Domingo, who is questioning every facet of his life after the death of his mother, Adelaide, played by the brilliant Sharon Washington.
Gil is a 40-year-old apparently failing actor, still reeling from the break-up with his boyfriend a year before, and feeling very guilty about not being with his mother enough as she was dying. He was, as is repeated in this play, missing in acting.
But Gil is fully aware of the absurdity of his life, and can't help laughing at himself and what's going on. Not in the full, open-throated way of the guilt-free, but in the face-constricted way of guilty feelings, a man who knows he is on the edge of his sanity.
While sitting in the funeral home, trying to deal with picking a funeral plan for his mother, he openly tells the funeral director that he wants to have sex. And then his phone rings, and he has a conversation with his dead mother, who is sitting on a chaise longue, complaining about a woman who had visited. Adelaide is sure the woman had put some kind of voodoo curse on her.
It's all part of the exasperating madness of Gil's life, as he opts for what he can afford -- the cremation package.
Domino's performance in this is hilarious, moving and powerful -- which it must be, because here comes his Aunt Glo, also performed by Washington, who is absolutely Hurricane Sharon on the stage at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
Aunt Glo is loud, pushy and demanding, castigating Gil for cremating her sister instead of getting a coffin, and wanting to know where the service will be held -- all the while picking through Adelaide's things that she wants for herself.
Aunt Glo screams -- "Whooo!" -- and commands the stage, except over there is Gil, who still has our attention because of what he does with his body and his face. It makes for a delightful, funny time in the theater, these two powerful performances. Cremation is not what our people do, Aunt Glo says, meaning black people. And there are phone calls to be made, so all the relatives can come to the service -- even those from -- distasteful shudder -- Detroit.
But Gil doesn't want it. No church, no service, no relatives. He is saved, in a way, by the arrival of his flamboyant makeup artist friend, Mo (played heroically on Saturday by Duane Boutté, sounding like a bullfrog with nasty case of laryngitis). Mo drags Gil away from the funeral director/one-night stand, Terry (played with thoughtful sensitivity by Richard Prioleau) and the raging Aunt Glo, and takes Gil and his mother (now in an urn) on a road trip.
But Aunt Glo has a trick in her capacious purse -- not a GPS, but a CPPS -- a Colored People Positioning System, so she and Terry can follow Gil and Mo.
She got it from Mexicans, she says, as if that explains everything.
It's a weird moment, but one that somehow fits the general nuttiness of the play.
On the road, Gil does have a partial breakdown, when he wakes up long enough to realize that Mo is driving him through Georgia -- two brightly gay black men in Georgia -- and jumps out of the car, screaming.
A word about the sets, scenic design by Eric Flatmo. I very much liked the proscenium arch and the footlights. Footlights! In scalloped shells! And the arch is very handsome. And I liked the huge curtains that looked so much like chiffon that I expect Helen Rose to appear and take them away to make dresses for movie musicals.
But I was not impressed by the funeral home set piece, and only moderately liked Adelaide's bedroom.
But when Mo finally gets Gil to the end of their trip -- a lavish suite at the Disney World hotel -- the audience actually burst into applause. It was a fantasy come to life, full of lilac and gold colors, and with that proscenium arch serving as a projection for bits of Disney cartoons and fireworks.
It is here that we learn the missing secret of Adelaide's death, and where all the four surviving characters find their paths to acceptance of their lives.
A satisfying finish.
Getting there, though, is a little rough. This play needs some editing, some rewrites. The early scenes, especially, in the funeral home, don't entirely hold together. That's the way of writing: rewriting. Still, it's a fine piece of work that is likely to get better, and it's a great time in the theater.
And it has to be repeated: Sharon Washington is great in this play. Amazing. Hilarious, worth more than the price of admission. Colman Domingo is courageous to get up there on stage with her, and the two of them work together brilliantly. Both of them are absolutely vital to the play working, and it does. Wow.