BWW Reviews: Catastrophic Theatre's THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS is Fun, Stark, Strange, and Ridiculous
The Catastrophic Theatre is currently reviving Mickle Maher's THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS by popular demand. The show originally had its Houston premiere in 2009, and apparently was quite a sensation. At Friday night's opening night performance of this run, I instantly saw why.
The quirky 90-minute one-act comedy written mostly in verse appeals to the audience's intellectual and literary brains, taking us back to our college literature classes. The play opens the morning after Bernard and Ellen had sex in public on the campus they teach at. The university's president, Dean, is asking that the two apologize to the student body in hopes that any potential backlash will be quelled and the run-down, financially struggling school won't have to be shut down.
Jason Nodler's brilliant direction brings audiences to the precipice of astonishing absurdity. The two main characters, Bernard and Ellen, are fabulous foils to each other, which Jason Nodler ensures the cast captures. Bernard is sanguine, genuinely happy, and fawning. Ellen is a cynic, strong willed, and cantankerous. Dean, saved for final 10 minutes of the play, serves as the glue that holds everything together.
Troy Schulze is alluring and affable as Bernard, a lover of William Blake's SONGS OF INNOCENCE series. As he begins to wax poetic about having sex in public, I was taken aback that he was literary talking in metered verse with decidedly elevated language. After a few moments and some cognitive adjustment, I found myself enraptured by his excellent timing, poetic tone, weighted emotional and alternating intonation, and purposeful inflection. Imbuing Bernard with boundless optimism, Troy Schulze's characterization is made all the more hilarious, especially as he awkwardly divulges more information than he probably should.
Pessimistic Ellen, adeptly played by Amy Bruce, is a fan of William Black's SONG OF EXPERIENCE series and is angry that she is being asked to apologize for having sex in public. She is biting and sardonic, using language that is common, lowbrow and forcefully blunt despite utilizing poetic rhyme schemes, cadences, and tones. Amy Bruce's character is brutally funny, not caring whose toes or feelings she may stomp on as she makes her point.
Dean, as portrayed by Kyle Sturdivant, is bombastic and larger-than-life. His delusions of God-like grandeur leave the audience rolling in the aisles, allowing Kyle Sturdivant to gleefully and impressively chew the scenery with radiant pizzazz. His despair over something he thought he owned and was his to enjoy privately builds on the humor and comedic performances already offered, bringing all the elements of the production together nicely.
Wayne Barnhill's Scenic Design expertly captures and recreates the visage of a well-used campus building. There appears to be mold on the floorboards, the walls are in need of a fresh coat of paint, and everything is grimy with years of use.
Alex Jainchill's Lighting Design is fantastic. The Catastrophic Theatre's grid offers little options for where instruments can be hung, but Alex Jainchill maneuvers instruments into the space very well, ensuring that a minimal amount of instruments create the perfect ambient lighting for the performance.
Tiffani Fuller's Costume Design is great. The selected articles of clothing say a lot about the characters.
There is a moment of dialogue in The Catastophic Theatre's production of Mickle Maher's THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS where Bernard states that Ellen is stark, strange, and ridiculous. I feel that with the addition of fun, Mickle Maher has perfectly described his own show. This avant-garde work is a cerebral and absurdist farce of poetry, higher education, and our own need to claim ownership of things we could never own.
This fun, stark, strange, and ridiculous production of THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS runs through May 25, 2013 at The Catastrophic Theatre, 1119 East Freeway, Houston, Texas. For more information and tickets, please visit http://catastrophictheatre.com or call (713) 522 - 2723.
All photos by Anthony Rathburn. Courtesy of The Catastrophic Theatre.