– a play written in rhyming couplets and so your reviewer rises to the challenge –
If you teach a poet two hundred years’ dead, it’s not surprising that you could be led to a dalliance, but the stakes get raised when your taste for outdoor sex leaves you appraised in your humping by the whole student body and the college Prez, your amorous Pilates caught on cell-phone, sent to the press, who publish the pictures, with your undress covered by the college logo. The dilemma and fears of Bernard (Brian Crane) and Ellen (Lynn Sharp Spears), lovers and colleagues these last fifteen years, are this: they don’t hear the jeers. Their sex is a sacrament, the post-coital glow the only protection against the endless no. But to Joe Palka’s President Dean, every moment of it was supremely obscene. The only protection for his cow-town college, he thinks, is for them to acknowledge their sinfulness, and to repent, and thus relegate the whole incident to the sick, the accidental, the stupid, the malign and far from the orbit of the college’s design.
Our heroes teach William Blake. Let me be plain: a number of his contemporaries thought he was insane. He and his wife, if they had some good weather, would greet friends in their garden while in the altogether. To him life, and sex, was like a great river that must flow through our minds if we have a sliver of hope for happiness: the great angel joy which is our birthright, and magnificent toy. So could you teach Blake for fifteen years and not feel contagion? Free love and free verse get your own hormones ragin’?
For Bernard Barrow, fornication under the stars blew the doors off, and was a sort of ars poetica which stripped off the years and (although it gave good view to their rears) was a celebration of innocence, his “Infant Joy”; made him feel as charged and as young as a boy. Crane gives us this: he gives Bernie such lucidity that he is cheery and optimistic to the point of stupidity, but never over the top.
Ellen (her last name is Parker) gives us a teacher who is more bitter, and darker. And for good reason: her song of experience Is borne from her sorrow, and in a near séance of pain and regret. The secret she knows and reveals is this: she is “The Sick Rose”. Worse than this, she no longer feels love. And when Bernie rejoins her, she stands above and below and beside him, but never within. And though he expects her to join him in a loving joint apology which will save their jobs, she finds it not in her cosmology to say those soft words. Instead, she utters a curse so vile and hopeless it’d send us home in a hearse if directed at us. Spears, sharper here than I’ve ever seen her strikes fear in our hearts as a savage truth-teller, bleakly intelligent, a relentless dweller in an honest land. An enemy of cant her final act – to undo “The Infant Joy” – gives us a truth too hard to resist: honesty and love cannot coexist.
There Is a Happiness That Morning Is
Closes November 17, 2013
Part of fallFRINGE 2013
607 New York Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001
1 hour, 25 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $15 – $20
Saturdays and Sundays
Details and Tickets
There is a Happiness That Morning Is by Mickle Maher . Directed by Jay Hardee, assisted by Maggie Clifton, who also served as stage manager. Featuring Brian Carne, Lynn Sharp Spears, and Joe Palka. Scenic design by Clifton, Hardee, John Spears and Lynn Sharp Spears. Produced by WSC Avant Bard as part of fallFRINGE 2013 . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.