I’m wildly happy, even ecstatic, about Center Stage’s production of Wild with Happy, by Coleman Domingo and directed by Jeremy B. Cohen. Happy is about a middle-aged, gay man returning home from NYC to deal with his mother’s death. Although the main plot line is about death, Domingo handles it with irreverence, humor, love, courage, and a wild cast of characters.
Gil (played by Forrest McClendon) has moved to NYC to continue his fledging acting career, much to his mother’s dismay. When she passes away, he returns home to attend to administrative and family matters, and his visit home brings up many unresolved issues. To help him though this time of confusion and grief he calls his friend from NYC, Mo (played by Chivas Michael). Michael’s Mo is gloriously over-the-top with his hair, his fashion, his expressions, his speech and his never-take-anything-too-seriously way of life. It is so good its perfect, and its believable too.
All the elements needed for a perfect show align in Center Stage’s production of Wild with Happy…
But first Gil meets the sweet, cute and kind Terry (played by James Ijames), the funeral home operator in his family’s many-generational Home. Ijames brings a sweet naïveté and genuine earnestness to Terry that easily transfers from the stage to the audience.
Gil has an enlightening conversation with his mother from beyond the grave during his first visit to the Funeral Home. Stephanie Berry plays Gil’s mother, Adelaide, as well as his Aunt Glo. Berry as Adelaide is a calm, quiet and caring mother, tenderly revealing tiny clues about how sick she was during the year Gil has been away. She reveals just enough for Gil to realize how many clues he didn’t pick up on during the few and far between telephone calls he had with his mother. In sharp contrast with Adelaide, Glo is brash, loud, selfish and funny as hell. Berry as Glo is brilliant, hiding her own grief by focusing on family traditions that must be upheld and by riding on the line between frenetic and just plan wild.
One the surface, McClendon’s character Gil looks the most calm and least caring of them all, but it is Gil who faces the most change and in the end does the most changing. McClendon works seamlessly with the whirlwind around him and the twister inside him.
Robert Wierzel’s lighting design, with patterns projected on the set’s backdrop, added much to the overall mood of each scene, especially Gil’s traveling scene which, together with the set, is one of the-best produced scenes I have seen on stage.
In the end, Gil, Terry, Mo and Aunt Glo all fulfill a fairytale ending for Adelaide, and in doing so give Gil the happy along with the wild. All the elements needed for a perfect show align in Center Stage’s production of Wild with Happy, and I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend about 90 minutes of my life.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Wild with Happy is running through June 29, 2014 at Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202. For tickets call the Box Office at 410.332.0033 or click here.