Scribes who are determined to shoot themselves in the foot usually direct their own plays. Colman Domingo, a thesp with notable profesh credentials (“The Scottsboro Boys,” “Passing Strange”) wisely avoids that trap. But he does himself few favors by taking the lead in “Wild With Happy,” his absurdly amusing farce about a black, middle-aged gay dandy who goes into a tailspin after his mother dies. Thesp loses laughs by magnifying the hero’s prissy, mannered, rigid personality. And being miked to the gills — a criminal offense in an intimate house — makes these defensive tics really, really annoying.
Aside from the matter of the miking, the Public Theater production helmed by Robert O’Hara (a go-to guy in regional theater) is classy in the extreme. So classy that it raises the critical question: How much did those lavish projections, costumes, props and setpieces cost, anyway?
The design bells and whistles go off when 40-year-old Gil (Domingo) flashes back on a memory of himself as a sensitive lad of ten being dragged off to church (to “get us some Jesus”) by his mother, Adelaide. As played in flamboyant style by Sharon Washington (and isn’t she a treasure!), Adelaide is a free spirit who “catches” the Holy Ghost from the circus atmosphere at the black evangelical church where she worships.
Gil’s humiliation at this shake-and-bake Pentecostal service — the first of many surreal scenes that have the walls of the little LuEsther Theater pulsing with bright lights, explosive sounds, and vibrant images supplied by Japhy Weideman (lighting) and Lindsay Jones (sound) — causes him to swear off church altogether. That becomes a real problem when Adelaide dies and her sister, Glo (another galvanic perf from Washington), demands a traditional church service and cemetery burial.
The grieving Gil makes a dutiful visit to a funeral home, where the impressive looking coffins designed by Clint Ramos cleverly flip open to serve multiple uses. But after getting off a quickie with the cute funeral director played by Korey Jackson, Gil decides on cremation.
But what to do with the ashes?
Accompanied by his supportive best friend, Mo (a sweet and sassy perf from Maurice McRae, who looks darling in Ramos’s gaudy costumes), Gil embarks on an epic journey to find the appropriate resting place for his mother’s remains. His hero’s quest would be a lot easier if he didn’t have to listen to his Aunt Glo’s breathless arias of unwanted advice, hilariously reeled off at warp speed by Washington. (These free-style monologues, delivered on a bizarre road trip in Aunt Glo’s 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, are inspired pieces of comic writing.)
Over Aunt Glo’s protests (“You can’t have no funeral services in Orlando, Florida! You can’t wear black in Florida!”), the entire entourage winds up at Disney World, where Gil is determined to give his mother the fairytale ending she never realized in life. Aaron Rhyme’s witty projections supply the “fireworks and magic” for a proper funeral. But the image we come away with is the sight ofAdelaide in a blue Cinderella gown (Washington again — can’t get enough of her) dancing on air.