For college professors Bernard and Ellen, nothing brings sexy back quite like the poems of William Blake. Unfortunately for them, they’ve been caught demonstrating the romantic nature of the Romantics in front of their students.
So begins There Is a Happiness That Morning Is, Mickle Maher’s zany, brainy proof that any number of four-letter words can be spun into metered verse. (Proof, also, that having lots of wilderness poetry sex in front of one’s students is sure to upset the prudish head of the college.)
WSC Avant Bard mounted this production (see what I did there?) in the 2013 FallFRINGE, and this year the play-in-rhymed-couplets finds a home in the space at Theater on the Run.
We meet Bernard first, played by Brian Crane. He’s that professor—you know the one, the lecturer who reminded you of Dr. Seuss if he’d done a Ph.D. and a truckload of marijuana. His behavior verges on infantile, but endearingly so; his classes lack a certain academic rigor, but his enthusiasm and giddiness grant them entertainment value nonetheless. Indeed, we see Bernard hopping ecstatically up and down over a few words of “Infant Joy” as though the poem’s words were linguistic dopamine.
Not surprisingly, he’s here to teach us, the class, about Blake’s “Songs of Innocence.”
There Is a Happiness That Morning Is
Closes November 23, 2014
Theater On The Run
3700 South Four Mile Run Drive
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $30 – $35
Thursdays thru Sundays
Later that same day, we return to the classroom for another lesson on Blake. This one is taught by Ellen (Lynn Sharp Spears), a scowly and formidable professor and Bernard’s longtime lover. Fumingly unapologetic about the “devious fuckery” of the night before, she uses her last class to explain her behavior with Blake’s “Songs of Experience.”
Director Jay Hardee’s staging draws the audience quite literally into the scene, with the first two rows comprised of institutional-issue school desks replete with notebooks and course evaluation slips. (Those squeamish about shattered fourth walls and eye contact with performers ought to stay to the sides, or at least snag a seat beyond the third row.)
Without revealing too much, the seemingly stagnant characters eventually shift their points of view, and indeed the arrival of the tittering college president (Mario Baldessari) spins the entire situation on its ear.
It becomes more than a 90-minute poetry explication (though it is also, to some degree, that).
It becomes a meditation on grief, on love, on coping with mortality. It actualizes what Blake threads throughout his poems, showing us how these poems might look, brought to life. But it’s also scathing, hilarious, and absurd, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that simply because there’s poetry involved.
At the intersection of love and desperation, passion and panic, this intellectually stimulating romp asks us to consider what it is to read a poem and what it is to inhabit one. With or without our clothes.
There Is a Happiness That Morning Is by Mickle Maher . Directed by Jay Hardee . Featuring Lynn Sharp Spears and Brian Crane with Mario Baldessari . Produced by WSC Avant Bard . Reviewed by Jennifer Clements.
THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS
Closes Nov 22
Andrew White . BroadwayWorld brilliant verse comedy, There is a Happiness that Morning Is, and happiness of a truly delicious, adult variety is there in spades.
Brian Bochicchio . MDTheatreGuide unique and thoroughly engaging
David Siegel . DCMetroTheaterArts has a genuine exuberance that sucks the audience in and transports them into a witty, literate world gone amuck.