West Coast Premiere of Colman Domingo’s “Wild With Happy” is a cathartic journey to Disney World in search of redemption and peace By: Steve V. Rodriguez

Wild With HappyIt’s easy to fall in love with Colman Domingo, the actor who was nominated for a TONY for “The Scottsboro Boys” and starred in “Passing Strange”, which was truly ahead of it’s time for Broadway. The gifted actor is not afraid to grow and take risks as he continues to explore his own original material. Last time we interviewed Domingo he had written and starred in his one-man show, “A Boy And His Soul”, which was autobiographical about his family growing up and the music that filled the house. Now Domingo is back with an original piece, “Wild With Happy”, that isn’t autobiographical, but has a satirical look at death, tradition, guilt and the search and journey,  for true happiness.

From the moment the lights dim a classic tune, “Happy Days Are Here Again”, sung by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland  is heard throughout the theater,  signifying the pursuit of this ever elusive state of being. Almost immediately when the song ends, Gil (Domingo) appears from the curtains ranting and raving about the time his mother dragged him to church as a little boy and embarrassed him as she physically felt the Lord at the service. Domingo has the ability to command a stage and entertain as a gifted and hilarious storyteller, but no sooner does he end his opening monologue,  that we are transported into a gospel church, complete with organ, pastor and plenty of hallelujahs.

The story revolves around Gil who has returned home to Philadelphia to deal with his mother’s passing. At a funeral home, Gil has to take care of all the arrangements including deciding what grade of casket he should pick, which is seen in a very comical exchange between Gil and the funeral home director, Terry (Korey Jackson).  Gil who now lives in New York City as an actor, is bitter and jaded, and it shows in his quick sarcasm and pent up body language. We learn later that his most recent gig is not, as his mother thought,  for the play,  “A Raisin In The Sun”, but instead, for a commercial playing a Craisin. He’s also just broken up with a boyfriend, and is low in funds.  The man is about to explode and is clearly not happy to be dealing with the matter at hand. In an exchange between Gil and Terry about the price of the highest end casket, Gil becomes incredibly frustrated and looks to his phone, and states that he needs to have sex at that very moment. Terry states that this outburst is highly inappropriate, while Gil spouts back that the price of these caskets is what is really inappropriate. We learn later that the two characters do find a way to relieve some tension, while Gil decides to have his mother cremated. This decision is not met well by his Aunt Glo, played by the very talented Sharon Washington. Washington is outstanding playing the roles of Aunt Glo and Gil’s mother, Adelaide. The two sisters couldn’t be more different,  and Washington wears both hats perfectly and has the audience anxiously anticipating her next move on stage.

Two of the best scenes involve an exchange between Gil and his mother, whom he refers to and calls Adelaide, instead of mom. It’s an exchange that occurred prior to her death, but maps out the relationship between a mother and her dreams, compared to her son and the reality that he feels. It’s sentiment is sweet and painful at the same time, while giving the audience a closer look at this mother/son relationship. The other scene involves Aunt Glo and Gil, which really shows off Washington’s ability to transform into a loud spatting Aunt with a lot of street smarts. She is horrified that her nephew would have her sister cremated,  as she rants and raves about the apartment, helping herself to her sister’s wardrobe,  taking every dress, scarf and hanger in the closet.

A road trip ensues taking Gil and his flamboyant best friend, Mo (Maurice McRae), with urn in hands across the country, which lands them in Florida.  Aunt Glo and Terry follow them via a gps  smartphone. The foursome end up at Disney World,  of all places, in a climatic ending that will determine if they can come to terms and make peace, in their search for true happiness. Domingo has stated that he had visited Disney World and had an epiphany while staring at the nightly fireworks display. He stated that during the fireworks show, he understood, at that moment, what Walt Disney was trying to achieve in terms of a truly happy moment.

“Wild With Happy” is a moving piece that looks at the intricacies of our relationships with our mother, coming to terms with reality and the search for a deeper meaning in our lives. Below the layers of Domingo’s hilarious script, there is a vulnerable undercurrent of life’s bigger questions,  that will touch the hearts of the audience. Clint Ramos does an excellent job transforming the set from simple to complex when appropriate, and Aaron Rhyne creates larger than life projection designs that work well with the climatic ending.

“Wild With Happy” plays at Mountain View Center for Performing Arts from June 5 – June 30th, 3013. For tickets visit: http://www.theatreworks.org/shows/1213-season/wildwithhappy