There Is a Happiness That Morning Is
Mickle Maher's play is fiercely literary yet wholly accessible, and Capital T Theatre's staging is a joy
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Nov. 8, 2013
There Is a Happiness That Morning IsHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/479-7529
Through Nov. 16
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.
This is your chance, right now, to stop reading. Then you can experience the pleasure of knowing very little about Mickle Maher's play There Is a Happiness That Morning Is and instead discover for yourself a bizarre, brilliant play that is capable of reordering your brain a bit.
How fascinating it is to be led through the intellectual jungles of one of Maher's adaptations. His style is fiercely literary yet wholly accessible. In Happiness, he tosses up the poetry of William Blake the way a child might throw her toys across the floor and then assemble them in some unforeseen, chaotic fashion that somehow computes in the end. Through dialogue in verse that is reminiscent of Blake's lyrical style, we see played out the grand story of Bernard and Ellen. They are two professors at a small college who lecture on Blake: he in the mornings, she in the afternoons. He is obsessed with childlike joy, she with disenchantment. The night before this particular day, they had sex in the middle of the grounds of their idyllic yet floundering college, before the entire student body and, as it happens, the president of the school. Scandal. They have been told that they must either apologize for their public lovemaking or they must lose their jobs. They don't like that request.
A mention is due here of this Capital T Theatre production's dramaturg, Carrie Klypchak. It's all but impossible to know what the precise contributions of a great dramaturg are from just seeing a play, but you can often tell when a good one has made her way through the rehearsal room. With this heady, intellectual matter, the story is engaging and the actors do not stumble. Also, smart program notes. Those help a lot.
Watching such accomplished, capable actors as Katherine Catmull and Jason Phelps playing these roles, under Mark Pickell's direction, is a joy. Phelps has what is arguably the easier job, if only because pleasing the audience is so automatic when your character spends much of the play lost in a reverie of bliss. Regardless, most of the play is a lovely duet between two great performers who take the passion from the script and from Blake's poetry and hand it over to the audience with abandon.
(There is a third character, by the way. Sorry, actor: You did a great job, but I can't bring myself to say more. The discovery of your character was too much fun to spoil, even to the people who have chosen to keep reading.)
One of the great things that theatre can do for people is transport them, even when they don't realize they need transporting. Capital T's production of There Is a Happiness That Morning Is does exactly that. It brings out the exuberance and rebellion that is often obscured in Blake's poetry by the weight of the last 200 years. The play uses its ridiculous but appealing characters to present these feelings anew, in all their force and passion.
In summary: Now that I've partly ruined it, buy a ticket anyway. It's just so much fun.