October 23, 2012 5:45 pm

Wild With Happy, Public Theater, New York

The broad delivery of this drama is somewhat wearing, but it has flashes of savage wit
Colman Domingo and Maurice McRae in ‘Wild With Happy’©Joan Marcus

Colman Domingo and Maurice McRae in ‘Wild With Happy’

Colman Domingo exudes exuberance. Three years ago, in his superb, autobiographical A Boy and His Soul, he played all the characters. In his slightly frenetic, heartfelt new piece, Wild With Happy, off-Broadway at the Public Theater, he shares the stage with three colleagues. In the case of Sharon Washington, it would be more accurate to say he cedes the spotlight, so aggressively does she court, and often compel, audience attention.

Domingo portrays Gil, educated in English literature at Yale and long struggling as an unsuccessful actor in New York. He thought he had shed all traces of religion as a boy, but is plunged at the age of 40 in a full-fledged spiritual crisis after his mother dies and he, the only child, returns to Philadelphia to make the necessary arrangements.

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Terry, a young, handsome funeral home director given a winning serenity by Korey Jackson, sets this interval-less evening’s theme. “Grief does strange things to people,” he says. Terry takes extreme measures to settle Gil’s nerves: they have sex almost immediately. Gil’s bristling defensiveness is not calmed, however.

His Aunt Glo, played by Washington (she’s also Gil’s mother, Adelaide), attributes Gil’s inability to love to his lack of a father during childhood. She excoriates his scorn for tradition. When Gil opts to have his mother cremated, and forego a standard funeral, Glo explodes in one of the rants that define, and often threaten to capsize, the play.

Like many memorable comic characters, Glo has an appalling lack of self-awareness. “My sister loved her colours,” she tut-tuts while helping Gil dispose of his mother’s clothing, a criticism that doesn’t prevent her from absconding with most of her sister’s dresses.

Before the play reaches its conclusion, at the end of a chaotic road trip, Domingo attempts, not altogether persuasively, to make Gil more vulnerable. He also softens Glo a bit, allowing her to dispense pearls of wisdom such as: “Black people don’t know how to whisper.” The same could be said of this production, directed by Robert O’Hara. Most of it is delivered so broadly that when Gil’s epiphany finally arrived I found myself exhausted by the non-stop posing and posturing. Still, I marvelled at the way the ingenious set designer, Clint Ramos, opened up the production into something spectacular for the final scene, and appreciated Domingo’s flashes of savage wit.

3 stars

www.publictheater.org

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