WILD WITH HAPPY - Center Stage Ends the Season with a 'Smiley Face'
Center Stage's 51st season will be remembered for bringing comedy back to North Calvert Street with bells on. Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah and Center Stage know the way to get subscribers to renew. That is, leave them laughing. And that's exactly what they do with WILD WITH HAPPY.
The season started with the musical comedy ANIMAL CRACKERS, then there was the Irish comedy STONES IN HIS POCKETS, and then the uproarious VANYA AND SONIA AND MARSHA AND SPIKE. And now comes WILD WITH HAPPY. I don't ever remember a season infused with so much laughter. Donald O'Connor was famous for his quote, "Make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh." Playwright Colman Domingo probably wouldn't mind if that expression was put on his tombstone.
There are two Tony nominated actors involved with WILD WITH HAPPY. First, there is playwright Domingo who was nominated for his role in the Kander & Ebb musical THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS. Also from that show, and also nominated for a Tony is Forrest McClendon who plays the leading role of Gil. The playwright played the role of Gil at New York's Public Theater but now his close friend McClendon has taken over and what a gifted actor he is.
Thanks to Production Dramaturg Catherine Maria Rodriguez work in the program, the title of the play came from the playwright's best friend Anika who took Domingo to Disney World and actually said to him, "Look at these people! Everybody's just wild with happy". His desire is for the audience to leave the play "wild with happy". And the evening I attended, they did!
The play surrounds the character of Gil who has just lost his mother, his relationship has fallen apart, and his acting career has stalled.
Gil is not in a good mood as he visits the funeral home headed by Terry (the terrific James Ijames). Terry explains the alternative caskets for Gil (great set design by Tony Cisek) but Gil has only one thing in mind and that is cremation. When his Aunt Glo (the amazing Stephanie Berry who also plays Gil's mother Adelaide) hears about this, she explodes with consternation. When Aunt Glo (who loves velour sweatsuits) arrives at the home of Adelaide, she wastes no time as she casually tries on the clothes of the deceased she admires and puts them on one at a time, along with Adelaide's jewelry. It is hysterical. Director Jeremy Cohen knows how to milk a scene. He does a masterful job directing his tremendous cast.
Helping Gil with his grief is his love interest Mo (played by the talented Chivas Michael) who is so over the top, well, let's just say he is.
The one act play goes very fast as Gil decides to head to Disney World to spread his mother's ashes with Mo along with him and following close behind down I-95 are the funeral director and Flo. The ending is just pure magical. Walt Disney would have been proud (well, maybe NOT!).
Domingo has a wish for audiences. "I'd like for you to just relax your arms, open up your heart again. That's the power of theater and what we can do. To just lift us, maybe to lift us possibility again, and to hope." If you follow his advice, you'll have a grand time at WILD WITH HAPPY.
Making the evening such a pleasure are the amazing costumes (Alejo Vietti), superb lighting (Robert Wierzel), super Sound and additional music (Robert Kaplowitz), and clever projections by Jeff Sugg.
WILD WITH HAPPY runs until Jund 29. For tickets, call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.
Photo Credit of cast, Director Jeremy B. Cohen, and Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah: Charles Shubow