NEW YORK—Generational conflicts and perceptions, the importance of dreams, and the need to find common ground with people with whom you disagree are the underlying themes in Colman Domingo’s absolutely hilarious Wild With Happy.
Gil (Domingo) is a self-important New Yorker who sees everything outside of his immediate comfort zone as pedestrian, plebian, and totally beneath his notice. He is also a 40-year-old actor with a career going nowhere.
Coming from a Philadelphia background, which emphasizes family, church, and community, he rejects these notions wholeheartedly, especially the church part. His decision comes after seeing so much hypocrisy from so many, including his own mother, Adelaide (Sharon Washington), whom he calls by her first name.
However, Adelaide dies after a lengthy illness. Gil, already feeling guilty that he never spent much time with her during the last year of her life, finds himself drawn back to the world he left behind to take care of funeral arrangements.
Wanting to get the entire affair over as soon as possible and against the idea of a church service and burial, he instead has Adelaide cremated. This decision infuriates his Aunt Glo (Washington), Adelaide’s only sister and a woman steeped in the traditions that Gil has rejected. These traditions demand a proper period of mourning and the coming together of family and friends.
Domingo, who also penned the script, has a fine time with the part of Gil. Gil is someone who, when offered sugar with his coffee, asks instead for Blue Agave Sweetener and who keeps checking his iPhone when talking to Terry (Korey Jackson), the director of the funeral home.
Although Gil seems so grounded in his own reality that he has no time for anything else, in actuality he cares for his mother quite deeply. In fact, it was because he was uncomfortable facing the reality of her death, that he avoided seeing her toward the end.
It takes a dressing down from Aunt Glo and his own memories of his mother to spur him to fulfill at least one wish of Adelaide’s. (She was woman as full of dreams as Gil is of cynicism.) Her wish leads Gil to take his mother’s ashes on a car trip to Florida, with Aunt Glo and Terry in hot pursuit.
Washington is hysterical as Aunt Glo, a shoot-from-the-hip, sassy lady who blames the changing attitudes of society on the “Internets” and who goes off on various rants at the drop of a hat. A scene where she starts going through Adelaide’s clothes while arguing with Gil about the funeral arrangements is particularly hilarious.
Domingo’s script and Washington’s performance help give Aunt Glo a caring and endearing attitude, calling to mind a particularly eccentric relative everyone can relate to. She is someone who also has a take-charge attitude and is accustomed to getting things done. Washington also brings a nice earthy attitude to the role of Adelaide.
Maurice McRae is a hoot as Mo, Gil’s friend from New York. A flamboyant type, his clothes and attitude is as opposite from Aunt Glo as one can get. He also wears his hair in bangs. A comic foil for both Gil and Aunt Glo, McCrae carries himself perfectly for maximum comedic effect.
The only real problem in casting is with the character of Terry. More straight-laced and buttoned down than any of the others, Terry really doesn’t fit in with the dynamics of the other three personas. He also has his own issues to deal with.
Additionally, the script doesn’t delve deeply enough into Terry or his history to make one care about him.
Sets and costumes by Clint Ramos are both enjoyable and appropriately tacky when called for. The show also imaginatively uses a number of coffins, first appearing in a scene at the funeral home and then as props throughout the show.
Robert O’Hara’s direction works well for the most part, having Coleman, Washington, and McRae playing their roles with a high energy level, as well as always with the utmost seriousness. This direction makes some of the more outrageous dialogue particularly funny.
The pacing of the play is pretty strong as is the comic timing in terms of the delivery of the lines.
Blessed with a good script and strong characterizations—about 90 percent of the former and 75 percent of the latter—Wild With Happy is a touching and funny tale of one man trying desperately not to go home again. But he ultimately finds that when forced to do just that, things as he remembered them were maybe, just maybe, not always so bad.
425 Lafayette Street
Tickets: 212-967-7555 or visit www.publictheater.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Closes: Nov. 11
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.
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