Bernard and Ellen teach poetry – specifically, William Blake. In fact, Bernard pretty much just teaches the poem “Infant Joy.” Today is their last class because last night, at twilight, they had sex on the lawn in full view of all of the dorms, which means all of the students, which means all of the students’ cell phone cameras. Today, they can apologize and maybe they’ll save their jobs. But President Dean is pretty pissed, so their apologies had better be good.
That’s the set-up for Mickle Maher’s There is a Happiness That Morning Is, showing through next week, May 22 at the D.C.A. in a Theater Oobleck production. I will begin my review with the following sentiment: You should go and see this show.
There aren’t many writers who can pull off laughter and grief at the same time – previously, my only real encounter was with Kevin Kling’s The Ice Fishing Play at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis. What starts off hilariously in Happiness, a pair of slightly overlapping lectures from Bernard and Ellen to their respective classes on two very different poems from Blake, grows progressively funnier until a tragic turn, at which point Bernard and Ellen, finally face to face in the same time, arrive at an impasse. And that arrival that looks like a deus ex machina? It doesn’t really work out the way most of those writing strategies do.
Performers Colm O’Reilly, Diana Slickman, and Kirk Anderson render their characters with depth, heart, and an utter lack of grace. They are raw, flawed, often but not always likeable people who are suffering at the hands of everything they thought they loved – poetry, each other, and love itself. It’s not a script that is, at turns, heart-warming and bitter, full of love and tragedy. It begins that way, sure, but as the story grows, those things come together and love and bitterness walk in lock-step.
AND MAHER WROTE IT IN FREAKING RHYMING COUPLETS!
Not only rhyming couplets, he still manages to lace in a good deal of profanity, along with the assertion that “You’re behaving like a dick, generally.” The stylistic choice of the writing does not influence the masterful performances. The performers speak their poetic cadences without attention to a rhyme scheme. Theater Oobleck creates the kind of performance that makes me love theater – which is not surprising, perhaps – and that makes me want to love poetry. Which is.
If you have the chance to see this show and you do not see this show, your soul will grow sad and embittered. Sorry, but it’s true. And you won’t even know why.