Take a 'Wild' ride with this fractured fairy tale
City Theatre's latest play, “Wild With Happy,” takes the “wild” signifier seriously.
“It's a madcap, music-filled, road trip comedy,” says Reginald L. Douglas, artistic producer of City and director of the Colman Domingo Off-Broadway hit running through May 7. “You don't know where it's going to go next. And you end up in Disney World before you know it.”
The story is about Gil, a struggling actor, who returns home upon his mother's death. He feels guilt over his neglect, is hurting from a recent breakup, and at a loss as to what to do next. He quarrels with his outrageously overbearing aunt, and clashes with an unusual funeral director. But his best friend shows up to help, precipitating a car chase through several states.
“It's the most fun you could imagine,” Douglas says, “but also the most moving work. At the core of the play, it's about family. And about learning to accept your family by learning to accept yourself. And that's not easy work to do. Gil is really learning to grow up, but in the most crazy of circumstances way.”
Comedy is all about precision and timing. The many scene, set and costume changes — three of the actors play two characters each — require a complicated choreography in the small confines of the Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre.
The stage is set up as a thrust, with the audience on three sides.
“The set, as with the magic of the play, unfolds upon itself,” Douglas says. “Things fly in that you wouldn't expect. Things pop out on the set, pull out of the set, magically appear and disappear.”
He and set designer Tony Ferrieri had to figure out how to seamlessly present eight locations in 90 minutes in this fast-moving work.
“In the comedy and the underpinning drama, people are leading with their guts and just going. No one is stopping to think,” Douglas says. “So, the set has to perform the same way. We've designed a world that surprises the audience as much as the characters.”
C. Kelly Wright takes on the roles of Gil's mother Adelaide and his Aunt Glo in her Pittsburgh acting debut. (“When I was here before,” she says dryly, “I was a biology major at Pitt.”)
“My Aunt Glo would say ‘The same thing that makes you laugh will make you cry,' ” Wright says. “She would also say, ‘No fools, no fun, no guts, no glory.' This has great guts.”
“Wild With Happy” is a fractured fairy tale of sorts, with the Disney World location a most appropriate destination.
“When you get there, you're someone new, someone stronger, someone braver — like a good Disney princess, a good Cinderella,” Douglas says. “You end up realizing you fit the glass slipper all along. … All of us can be our own Cinderella and learn to accept and demand our own glass slipper, fairy tale ending.
“It may not look like you had imagined, but it might be just what you need.”
Sally Quinn is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.