Stage review: Forget your troubles, come on get 'Wild With Happy' at City Theatre
April 17, 2017 12:09 PM
Monteze Freeland as Mo, right, acts a scene with Corey Jones as Gil, left, and Jason Shavers as Terry during a dress rehearsal on April 4 for "Wild With Happy," City Theatre's penultimate show of the 2016-17 season. The comedy was written by Colman Domingo, a playwright and actor on "Fear the Walking Dead" and "The Knick."
C. Kelly Wright as Aunt Glo, right, reacts with Corey Jones as Gil during a dress rehearsal for "Wild With Happy."
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It’s been a quite the season for outrageous comedies at City Theatre, and let’s face it, we can all use a good laugh.
Back in the fall, “Hand to God” unleashed a possessed puppet on a small-town Texas church group. In the current LOL comedy at City, “Wild With Happy,” we get to forget our troubles and concentrate instead on the woes facing Gil — “just Gil, like Cher” — a 40-year-old black, gay New York actor with an unused degree in English lit from Yale. His love life and career are going nowhere when his mother dies, and he carries his guilt and grief home to Philadelphia to see to her affairs.
“Wild With Happy”
Where: City Theatre, Lester Hamburg Studio, 1300 Bingham St., South Side.
When: Through May 7. 7 p.m. Tuesday, 1 and/or 7 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 1 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and/or 9 p.m. Saturday and 2 or 7 p.m. Sunday (check citytheatrecompany.org).
Tickets: $37.50-$69; under 30 may reserve $15 tickets in advance for certain performances; 62 and older may purchase $22 rush tickets at the box office beginning two hours before showtime, based on availability; 412-431-CITY (2489) or citytheatrecompany.org.
Notes: Greenroom Young Professionals Night 8 p.m. April 21 ($25); postshow City Connects/LOVE: A Conversation with Proud Haven, after the 1 p.m. April 22 performance (visit website for more events and details).
OK, not a laugh riot so far. But the script by actor/playwright Colman Domingo mines shenanigans by vividly crafted characters who have Gil’s best interests at heart — although it takes him most of the play to figure that out.
L.A.-based actor Corey Jones as Gil has the strapping good looks of an action hero and a wide range of sitcom-ready expressions. He wears his feelings on his face, whether rolling his eyes at the antics of best friend Mo or disapproving Aunt Glo, or trying to stay calm with a sympathetic funeral home manager.
Mo is the most over-the-top character yet for Monteze Freeland, who is having quite a 2017 — as John Henry in “JH: The Mechanics of a Legend,” and as Curtis in Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s “Dreamgirls,” with more to come.
Before we get a load of Mo — who is decked out in drag, quick to bust a move or tell it like it is — we see him as the wild-with-moves pastor of the church attended by Gil’s mother, Adelaide. Jason Shavers also gets to ham it up hilariously as a church lady before we meet him again as Terry, who sells coffins and is into holistic healing — and Gil. He manages to show patience even though the clueless actor asks more than once for blue agave sweetener with his coffee.
Cash-strapped Gil, guilt-ridden over not having visited his mother, wants to wrap up his time in Philly quickly and get back to his audition for a Craisins commercial. He has mother cremated and also indulges in, shall we say, an offstage dalliance with Terry, who is clearly infatuated.
Aunt Glo, less so.
C. Kelly Wright, an award-winning actress who studied biology at the University of Pittsburgh, is warm and wacky in equal measure as Adelaide and Aunt Glo. As the latter, she makes entrances in brightly colored velour sweatsuits, a fanny pack and shiny gold sneakers. While she rifles through her deceased sister’s clothes, she chastises Gil for being quick to cremate his mother,
“We just don’t do that,” she says over and over again. How can Gil not realize that his mother’s African-American community of churchgoing friends and family would be expecting a service and their own opportunity to give Adelaide a proper sendoff?
We also see Ms. Wright as Adelaide in flashback phone conversations, in which we learn she believed in God and in Gil and also in the magic of Disney. Just before her death, she purchased a Cinderella doll as a reminder of the time she won a contest and took her son to the most magical place on Earth — Disney World in Orlando.
Strutting, bossy Mo decides it’s time for Gil to get some magic back in his life, and not just with Terry. While Gil sleeps in the car, his mother’s ashes in an urn on his lap, Mo heads toward Florida.
In the most unlikely but “why not?” scenario, Aunt Glo has placed a tracking device on the doll that Gil also has taken with him, and she and Terry give chase, heading for a confrontation in the most magical place on Earth.
A comedy with a car chase seems like it needs Mainstage space, but it works in City Theatre’s intimate Lester Hamburg Studio, thanks to Tony Ferrieri’s multipurpose backdrop and a red-fringed curtain that gives the whole a bit of a vaudeville vibe.
Reginald Douglas’ direction allows for no-holds-barred performances, a mandate Mr. Freeland takes to heart and then some. There are laughs to be had amid the manic moments, but plenty of occasions for reflection as well.
Ultimately, “Wild With Happy” is about a son coming to terms with his grief and the people in his life who help him on his journey.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
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