Colman Domingo’s “Wild With Happy” makes a joyful noise for life and transitions; for ritual and going against tradition; for taking chances and making choices; and for believing in family, love and magic.
These insightful themes played out with a whole lot of soul and spirit for the world premiere of “Wild With Happy” on Tuesday, Oct. 23, and running through Nov. 11 in the Public’s LuEsther Theater, at Astor Place.
Directed by Robert O’Hara, “Wild With Happy” is a perfectly crafted gem with an equally flawless cast. Colman Domingo deftly portrays Gil, the struggling, gay actor son of Adelaide, the all-too-fabulous, live-in-the-moment dream queen, who believes in Cinderella and a lot of magic (good and bad). This role is winningly enacted by Sharon Washington, who is also superbly cast as Adelaide’s sister, Aunt Glo, the plain-speaking, realistic hoarder who gave up her dreams for the security of a job that has guaranteed her a pension and retirement benefits.
Korey Jackson is wonderfully cast as Terry, who is expected to follow in the family tradition at the funeral home where Gil goes for services and gets more than he bargained for; and Maurice McRae (Mo) is incredible as the too-grand, over-the-top makeup artist friend of Gil’s, who takes him on the ride of a lifetime. In addition, in a flashback scene at the top of the show, McRae brilliantly portrays a larger-than-life preacher, while Jackson endearingly depicts a church nurse, as Adelaide is led in getting her fill of the spirit, as a young Gil relives a scary moment that has not made him a church fan.
All of these characters are brought together when Adelaide suddenly transitions without leaving adequate funds for the traditional Black church funeral, which puts Gil in the position of making a decision about his mother’s send-off to the heavenly kingdom, much to his aunt’s chagrin. “I don’t understand you or any of this,” Aunt Glo says of his unconventional choices.
Wrapped in a lot of wit and sentiment, the back story for each one of Domingo’s characters unfolds organically. They are characters we like because we know them so well. Some are heavy-handed and closed-minded against things they don’t necessarily understand and therefore won’t embrace. This is the case when Aunt Glo, who is totally aghast at the over-the-top use of the internet, becomes a believer in technology when she uses a GPS to track Gil’s whereabouts.
The scenic and costume design by Clint Ramos are cleverly on the money. The set is functional with props such as coffins deftly converted to a wardrobe, a bench and cars. The projection design by Aaron Rhyne and the lighting design by Japhy Weideman magically help to take us on this unique, surprise cross-country journey that brings us from a real to a surreal world, where not only Adelaide has transformed to live her dream and is at peace and content, but where the other characters and the audience who have taken this entertaining, one-of-a-kind trip are absolutely “Wild With Happy.”
For ticket information, visit www.publictheater.org