You may have heard of Douglas Turner Ward’s 1965 Day of Absence, but might not be as aware of his other one-act play that was often performed as a full evening. Here’s a chance to finally catch his comedy Happy Ending, produced by the relatively new All About the Drama Theatre Group in collaboration with Anacostia Playhouse.
After a stunning montage of photos to set the stage for 1960’s Harlem, massive kudos to Tewodross Melchishua Williams, the production opens with a film to bring “The Harrisons” to life. Presented as a kind of “prologue,” it felt superfluous at first, but once the show settled in, the opening segment became essential to understand the context. The back-story existence of the Harrisons underscores every segment of Happy Ending. Played to the hilt by Adele Robey (catch her if you can!) and Pat Martin, the Harrisons are well-to-do socialites calling it quits as a couple, and the announcement devastates their housekeepers, the sisters, Vi (Krinessa Pinkett) and Ellie (Jennifer Lee). The sisters, in full servant black and white maids attire, exit the film with hangdog expressions and enter the stage to play out their sorrow.
Their nephew Junie (Greg Watkins) is puzzled why they are so distraught, even belittling them for caring so much for what happens to the well-endowed Harrisons. The entire first half is a rather belabored and unrelenting tear-fest as the sisters cry and moan like their lives depend on the Harrisons. Slowly we find out that’s not too far from the truth once its finally revealed how the sisters have maintained their households and helped family members thanks unknowingly to the Harrisons. Once Junie finally comes to grips with the twisted reality – that things are not what they seem – he becomes as much a mess as they are.
closes August 25, 2018
Details and tickets
Ella Davis, who also directs the All About the Drama Theater Group gives full reign to the comedic exploits of the actors for full effect. While the pacing is uneven and some sections lag for want of more crisp and professional direction, the ensemble makes up for shortcomings with determination and commitment to their characters.
Lee belts out musical numbers such as “What a Difference a Day Makes” and “You Don’t Know What’s Going On.” with the strength of the renown gospel singer that she is. Pinkett’s voice is sweetly succulent, embracing the tones with a gentle caress.
Watkins is a treat to watch play Junie, first strutting his stuff in a flashy tailored suit, slinking along like a panther on the prowl with a gorgeous roaring voice. His transition through the stages of grief when he realizes the gravity of his aunts’ situation is hauntingly funny – his channeling Esther Rolle’s haranguing lament as Florida from “Good Times” is a gem. Charles Harris rounds out the quartet as the Ellie’s dutifully caring and hard-working husband.
The message underlying the Happy Ending script is as pertinent now as in the 1960’s where the stakes were even higher than Haves and Have-Nots. For families trying to survive who were just a generation past slavery, why not pinch a penny, or dime or two from folks too wealthy to notice? We care so much for the adorable down-trodden that we’re willing to turn an eye and wink when they snatch a bit of the trimmings for a comfortable secure life. Watching this talented ensemble tackle this treasured and tricky crowd-pleaser is a delight.
Seeing a relatively new professional theater company collaborate with other local arts organizations, Koalaty Entertainment, The Zhanra Group, film and video production and a play development company is an additional bonus. Here’s hoping All About the Drama Theatre Group gets the attention they deserve to keep going and growing.
Happy Ending by Douglas Turner Ward . Cast: Jennifer Lee, Krinessa Pinkett, Greg Watkins, Charles Harris. Set and Lighting Design— P. Precious Porter . Costume Design— Luqman Salim . Sound and Projection Design— Tewodross Melchishua Williams . Original Music – Marion Johnson . Stage Manager— Tammi Gardner .
Film Credits for “A Day in the Life of Vi & Ellie—Meet the Harrisons”: Writer and Director—Ella C. Davis, Cinematographer, Director of Photography—Sherelle R. Williams, Koalaty Entertainment . Cast: Pat Martin, Adele Robey, Jennifer Lee and Krinessa Pinkett
Produced by All About the Drama Theatre Group and Anacostia Playhouse . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.