Cathartic, camp, and euphorically uplifting, WILD WITH HAPPY—Philadelphia native Colman Domingo’s madcap adventure with death and grief, love, loss, and sexuality—keeps you laughing while tugging at your heartstrings and ardently reaffirming the joy of life. That’s quite an accomplishment, and Center Stage’s Baltimore premiere is quite a production.
Directed with gusto by Jeremy B. Cohen, the high-energy play traces 40-year-old Gil’s fantastic journey from New York to Philly to Florida’s Disneyworld, with occasional stops along memory lane, following the break-up with his lover, the disappointment of his unsuccessful career as an actor, and the death of his mother. But mourning becomes enlightenment as he comes to terms with his situation and relationships and finds faith and jubilation in “the happiest place on earth.”
The cast features acclaimed Philadelphia favorites Forrest McClendon as the outwardly cynical and excessively dapper gay protagonist Gil, and James Ijames as Terry, the sensitive rookie funeral director with whom he shares a new attraction. Both give outstanding performances filled with flair, humor, and emotional depth. Along with the laughs and sarcasm, McClendon registers Gil’s guilt over having been largely “missing in acting” throughout the last year of his beloved “only-est” mother’s life and his stress over the family matters and costly funeral arrangements he returns to handle. Ijames brings a kind and sympathetic innocence to Terry, who provides comfort to Gil in his time of need—after first hawking his family-owned funeral home’s top-of-the-line casket, and making a hilarious attempt at new-age healing.
Rounding out the ensemble of four are the terrific Stephanie Berry, who doubles as Gil’s angelic mother Adelaide and his contrastingly brash and opinionated Aunt Glo, and Chivas Michael as Gil’s outrageous friend Mo, a flamboyant dynamo with finger-wagging attitude, who initiates their transformative trip to Disney. Alejo Vietti’s eye-catching costumes flesh out the over-the-top characters, Rob Kaplowitz provides a lively sound design, and the colorful sets, lights, and projections by Tony Cisek, Robert Wierzel, and Jeff Sugg create a magical environment in which the nostalgia of loving memories overcomes the devastation of loss. As promised by the ebullient title, this play will leave you wild with happy. [Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore] May 28-June 29, 2014; centerstage.org.