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Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - June 14, 2013

Wild, wacky and wonderful

Colman Domingo's 'Wild With Happy' is a success once more at TheatreWorks

by Jeanie K. Smith

Colman Domingo, playwright and actor for TheatreWorks' latest show, is a bit of a native son, having done a fair amount of acting locally before making his way on Broadway and film. He returns to us in his most recent work, "Wild With Happy," a play that was a hit at TheatreWorks' New Works Festival in 2011 and ran to acclaim at New York's Public Theater before coming here.

Domingo's previous play, "A Boy and His Soul," was an autobiographical one-man show. This new play has an autobiographical ring about it, in that the main character has lost his mother, as did Domingo a while back, but it's not strictly so. Domingo has fictionalized more for this story, resulting in a somewhat fantastical and fun romp of a show.

Central character Gil (Domingo) has to return to Philadelphia to deal with his mother Adelaide's passing. We meet Adelaide (Sharon Washington) in a couple of hilarious flashbacks, in a neon-sporting church and her luxurious apartment. We can tell Gil's having a hard time of it at the funeral home, talking with the young and handsome funeral director, Terry (Richard Prioleau), and an even harder time dealing with his domineering aunt Glo (also Washington). His friend Mo (Duane Boutte) arrives from New York to give him support, but no one can stop him from making some unconventional choices regarding Adelaide's burial and services.

When Mo turns the ride back to N.Y. into a wild road trip, with Glo and Terry in hot pursuit, Gil ends up in an unexpected destination (no spoilers), with surprising results for him and the travelers.

Laugh-out-loud funny til the end, the play holds some surprising moments for the audience as well, delivering tenderness when you least expect it. It's definitely wacky and at times a bit like a comedy revue, but ultimately Domingo's mad take on mourning sneaks into your heart with honest emotion.

Director Danny Scheie keeps the action hopping while allowing Domingo full sway as Gil; Domingo's terrific acting is one of the best reasons to see the show. However, the other three players are no slouches, either. Washington, in particular, is nothing short of astonishing in her dual roles. She's here reprising her brilliant work in the NY production, which makes it hard to imagine anyone else doing such an awesome job with these characters (but I'm sure other actresses are chomping at the bit — the characters are so marvelous).

Prioleau and Boutte are also commendable, perfectly suited to their characters, although it took each of them a bit to warm up.

It's doubtful Domingo will revisit the script for changes, but if he does, I'd recommend shortening/re-thinking the road-trip section. It's difficult to tell how much of the problem lies with the staging here, which made it hard to hear and understand and watch. Clever in conception, the staging nevertheless overshadows and obscures the action.

There's also a fabulous monologue that suffers from the distracting noise of stage pieces being muscled into place behind the curtain. Ideally that will disappear as the crew becomes more accustomed to the set-up. By comparison, a later set for one of the road-trip destinations is impressive even by TheatreWorks standards, almost making up for any other issues. Lighting and media designer David Lee Cuthbert has tall orders in this show, and pulls them off with aplomb.

Regardless of any quibbles about set or play, this is an evening of unexpected hilarity and entertainment, sure to get you laughing. And it's tinged with just enough heart to leave you, perhaps, wild with happy.

What: "Wild With Happy," by Colman Domingo, presented by TheatreWorks

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.

When: Through June 30, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sundays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Cost: Tickets are $23-$73.

Info: Go to theatreworks.org or call 650-463-1960.


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