“Happy Ending” at Anacostia Playhouse is a really good time. This show is fun. It is really, really fun. It is laugh-out-loud, guffaw and snort fun. And that is a wonderful way to spend 90 minutes this summer—and forget about all the outrageous news bombarding us. For 90 minutes you can enter the slightly larcenous lives of domestics and sisters, Ellie (Jennifer Lee) and Vi (Krinessa Pinkett), who use their smarts to craft a living off of their employers, the Harrisons.
This show is…laugh-out-loud, guffaw and snort fun.
The show, written in 1965 by Douglas Turner Ward, an actor/director/playwright/and co-founder of the Negro Ensemble Company, concerns two sisters and their families living in Harlem in the early 1960s. As they acknowledge, they work long hard hours at very physical tasks and for really lousy pay; but they have become so entrenched in their employer’s life that they also have created a way to supplement their incomes through goods and services (they don’t stoop to anything as crude as stealing cash).
Often, when this show is produced, it is produced in tandem with “Day of Absence.” At the inspired remounting at the Anacostia Playhouse and All About the Drama Theatre Group, they chose instead to make a short film that opens the show and that sets the scene. The employers, the Harrisons, or more accurately, Mr. Harrison as Mrs. Harrison has no money in her own name, are deciding once again to divorce. This will negatively impact Vi and Ellie, and their families, including their mother and other relatives back home in North Carolina.
This is a light-hearted look at what the working poor have to do to survive. Ellie and Vi also provide an education to their nephew, Junie (Greg Watkins), looking for work that has dignity and will maintain his lifestyle as the best-dressed young black man around town. Through all the weeping and wailing they try to make Junie understand why this undignified job has them trying to figure out a way to keep the Harrisons’ together. During the last half hour when Arthur (Charles Harris), who is married to Ellie, comes home from his job and hears the news, the laughs fly even faster.
Through song and dance and reviewing all the stratagems they used to try to hold the Harrisons together, they desperately try to come up with a plan that will allow them to continue living the lifestyle they have become accustomed to. The Harrisons are so rich they have never noticed the extra food included in the bills or the clothing that disappears or the additions to the liquor orders, not to mention furniture, a pool (for their mom back in North Carolina), and whatever else they have managed to liberate.
This is a talented craft having a whole lot of fun. And some of the fast fanning in the theatre wasn’t caused entirely by the warmth and humidity in the theatre—Greg Watkins (seen in the “Gospel at Colonus” by WSC Avant Bard) can seriously sing and dance. He is so limber and agile and exudes so much sheer joy in the power of a young man’s body you almost expect him to dance up the walls.
It is directed by Ella Davis who gives her cast full rein to cast up their eyes to heaven and pray and wail for some divine inspiration. Luqman Salim created the period costumes and the lighting/set/prop design was by P. Precious Porter; the period touches are perfect.
The pre-show projections are pictures of the lives—the daily moments and the momentous occasions—of African Americans, anonymous and famous. For anyone thinking to judge these ladies and their survival skills, it provides a crisp jolt of reality.
This is an inspired mounting of this show. This is well worth taking a short jaunt (about 20 minutes from Arlington, for example) to Anacostia and seeing what the Anacostia Playhouse is all about.
Running Time: About 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Happy Ending” runs from August 9–25, 2018 at Anacostia Playhouse, Washington, DC. For more information, please click here.