Sunday, April 16, 2017

"Wild with Happy" Tickles All the Way to the Bone

Corey Jones as Gil, Jason Shavers as Terry, Monteze Freeland as Mo Credit: Kristi Jan Hoover

When I discovered just a few minutes before entering the theater that the run time of "Wild with Happy" is 1 hour and 40 minutes played without intermission, it sent up a red flag. I’d been flummoxed before by theatrical marketing hyperbole, which made me skeptical about the City Theatre’s calling Colman Domingo’s death-inspired joke fest an "outrageous comedy."

When the lights went down and the proverbial curtain up, my initial resistant curmudgeonlyness soon evaporated, and I was transported into a magical kingdom, one that riveted me to every line of text, delivered with an overwhelming kinetic force of witty verbiage. To put it quite simply, I had a ball.

Domingo seems a playwright with the ability to string together words into a fast flowing dialogue that sparkles with snappy retorts and dynamic repartee. So much so that when the play finally ended, time seemed so compressed in the most enjoyable way that I wondered where the extra 40 minutes of the 100-minute comedy had gone. What’s the old saying about how time flies when you’re having fun?

In staging "Wild with Happy," City Theatre seems to have assembled a perfect storm that includes the playwright, actors, director (Reginald Douglas) and technical crew that took the theme of the death of main
character’s mother and spun it into tasteful and realistic madcap romp with a Cinderella ending.

Corey Jones stars at Gil in "Wild with Happy" 
The play’s focal character, Gil is a gay actor in his 40s, who moved to New York from his native Philadelphia. Gil just lost his boyfriend and his career seems stalled at a time when he’s still plagued by $80,000 worth of student loans. Not only that but he’s lost his mother, a feisty woman named Adelaide who he’s neglected in pursuit of his acting career.

Back in his home town to make funeral arrangements, he meets up with a trio of colorful characters, two of which are over-the-top flamboyant. Aunt Glo, Adelaide’s sister is old school who insists on a traditional burial with all the associated trappings that go with it. (Think expensive casket, flower, church service, funeral parlor, motorcade).

While discussing the options with the fourth generation funeral director, Terry,  who’s family of undertakers have buried most of Gil’s ancestors, he decides on cremation, but only after the pair tryst in the back room.
Trying to relieve some of Gil’s grief, Mo, a wild and campy friend that makes Bette Midler look like a church marm, comes to the rescue.

As Gil, Corey Jones creates a character that both an alpha male and gay, and speaks with a deeply resonant voice that suggests formidable studliness. More serious-minded and down-to-earth than his diva aunt, flamboyant friend and the New Age undertaker, who develops an almost obsessive crush on the bereaved actor, he’s still given a fair share of flashy dialogue and crisp rejoinders.

Corey Jones as Gil, C. Kelly Wright as Aunt Glo Credit: Kristi Jan Hoover
C. Kelly Wright is absolutely brilliant in the dual roles of Adelaide and Aunt Glo. Her energy is contagious, her comedic timing impeccable, her character finely nuanced and her stage presence magnetic.

Equally as fiery is, Point Park University grad, Monteze Freeland, an androgynous vamp, who’s not only not afraid to be himself, but does it in a way that’s wildly entertaining. Freeland throws himself into the role like a whirlwind intent on leaving no laugh unappreciated or unadorned with his unique splashes of colorful gestures and finger-snapping panache.

As Terry, Jason Shavers serves as a much needed, moderating force that cools the heated goings-on with an even-keeled temperament. Yet even he is susceptible to the devil-may care dispositions he encounters as his crush on Mo has him joining in a car chase road trip to Disney World that eventually makes sense when it seems like it shouldn’t.

This talented quartet of accomplished comedic actors get a further emotional boost by the spirited disco era music inserted between scenes by sound designer, Zachary Beattie-Brown, some on-the-spot-lighting by Andrew David Ostrowski and a solid set by Tony Ferrieri.

The play fittingly ends in the Cinderella suite at a Disney World hotel where everyone is emotionally transformed by the enchanting ambiance of the Magical Kingdom and the crowd of park-goers outside seems to be, in the words of the now-deceased Adelaide, wild with happy.

It’s the sort of wildness that left me feeling happy and should leave the audience feeling that way too.

Corey Jones as Gil, Jason Shavers as Terry Credit: Kristi Jan Hoover
"Wild With Happy" is at the City Theatre on Pittsburgh’s South Side through May 7. For tickets, phone 412-431-CITY (2489) or visit website

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