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Theater Tue Apr 19 2011

Review: There Is a Happiness That Morning Is @ DCA Theater

Oobleck_ThereIsAHappiness_03.jpg

Colm O'Reilly, as Bernard, in There Is a Happiness That Morning Is at the DCA Theater.

Theater Oobleck's latest production, There Is a Happiness That Morning Is, is unexpectedly captivating in its intimacy, and powerful in its language. Playwright Mickle Maher tackles the entire script in rhymed verse, which left to a lesser writer would be a disaster, but through Maher's skillful hand is clever and deft. The 90 minute play unfolds in a single room, where Bernard (Colm O'Reilly) and Ellen (Diana Slickman) lecture to the audience as English professors speaking to a college classroom. Bernard and Ellen are longtime lovers, and have risked their careers by having sex on the main lawn of the college campus, only to be discovered by the dean of the school, who has demanded that they publicly apologize or lose their jobs.

Maher uses as his inspiration two poems by William Blake: Infant Joy, from Songs of Innocence, and The Sick Rose from Songs of Experience. The poems are so central to the piece that they are included on the front and back pages of the playbill, and are transcribed onto the blackboard by the actors. Bernard's take on the previous evening's events are expressed through analysis of Infant Joy, and Ellen's through The Sick Rose.

Far from a dry lecture on 18th century poetry, this play explores the depths of romantic involvement in a way that engages and thrills the audience -- at times Bernard and Ellen directly address audience members as students in their lecture. The action of the piece is not limited to the stage, there are moments that begin offstage and in the audience itself, and the piece includes a surprising amount of stage acrobatics that leaves the audience gasping.

O'Reilly's and Slickman's portrayal of the smitten professors is believable and powerful, and Kirk Anderson as James, the dean who demands that the couple apologize, provides a pivotal catalyst for the action and the storyline.

What amazes me the most about Theater Oobleck is that they manage to pull off stunning productions without the use of a director, at low or no cost to the audience, and have done so since 1988. I was lucky enough to catch their 2009 production of An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening (also written by Mickle Maher and starring Colm O'Reilly). It holds a special place in my heart because it was the first piece of theater I ever went to for the purpose of reviewing for Gapers Block, and because it was fantastic. I expected great things from There Is a Happiness That Morning Is, and I wasn't disappointed. You won't be either.

There Is a Happiness That Morning Is runs Thursdays-Saturdays through May 22 at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm (no performance April 24) at the DCA Theater (78 E. Washington Street), with post-performance discussions on April 21, May 15, and May 19. Tickets are $15 suggested donation or pay-what-you-can. For more information visit DCA Theater or Theater Oobleck.

 
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