There's an intriguing array of elements in Colman Domingo's "Wild With Happy," now making its West Coast premiere at TheatreWorks in Mountain View. Each brings its own creative spark, though the sum of those parts doesn't quite generate the level of fireworks that the play seems to have in its sights.
Gil is a struggling actor dealing with the death of Adelaide, his eccentric-but-beloved mother. He is hamstrung by limited finances, religious phobia and a grief that threatens to unravel his artfully composed exterior.
Pulling him in different directions are his avaricious, tradition-obsessed Aunt Glo; his pragmatic, wise-cracking pal Mo; and Terry, the distractingly attractive funeral director he's consulting to make his mother's final arrangements.
As playwright, Domingo creates several wonderful vignettes filled with keenly observed truths about love, loss, family dynamics, self-perception and self-deception that are frequently framed with wonderfully absurdist humor.
There are also some self-indulgent digressions for Gil, plotting cul de sacs and speechifying — particularly in a road-trip portion of the show — that diminish the better moments of pathos and comedy.
An appealing stage presence, Domingo the actor invests Gil with intelligence and vulnerability, self-protected with a droll, ironic veneer. His "Oh, no, she didn't!" deadpan irreverence is fun to watch and never overplayed.
Most actors hope for a good role, but Sharon Washington gets and gives a twofer. Her Adelaide is warm, rich in spirit and whimsically eccentric. It's easy to imagine grieving her loss when not wanting to strangle her first. Flipping her wig, Washington also essays Adelaide's sister, the hysterical, phrase-mangling Aunt Glo, whose need to control confounds Gil's desire to move on.
Duane Boutté as Mo sets the second half of the intermission-free play in motion, applying cracked logic to solve his best friend's dilemma. It's a bulletproof, fully committed performance delivered in a voice that will haunt your dreams.
Rounding out the cast is Richard Prioleau, the handsome "prince" who drops unexpectedly into Gil's fractured fairy tale of Disney destinations and Cinderella dolls equipped with CPPS (colored people's positioning system). He is, as expected, charming, and there is a sweet eagerness in his attempts to help Gil heal.
Directed by Danny Scheie, the performances are solid, but the production seems to hesitate in traveling all the way to its destination, as if concerned that it might go too far. Scenic design by Erik Flatmo is spare and fails to support the fantasia of Domingo's story. The overall production would have benefited from creating its magic kingdom from the start.REVIEW
Wild With Happy
Presented by TheatreWorks
Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes June 30
Tickets: $23 to $73
Contact: (650) 463-1960, www.theatreworks.org