THE HAPPY IDEA by Ade’ Ademola
The 45th Street Theatre 354 West 45th Street NYC
A World Premiere by The Xoregos Performing Company
Review by Grace Cavalieri
The play follows three characters, living at Mrs. B.'s flat in 1980's London, where they have found the comfort of "home." Amongst them is a cabaret singer, a failed actor writing his 'memoirs,' the elegant proprietress Mrs. B and a new, mysterious stranger whose elusiveness prompts all sorts of gossip and hyperbole concerning his earlier years possibly as a rent boy. When the actor claims to have nefariously known the stranger in his past it turns friends into enemies and enemies into...something else.—TheaterSource
Shela Xoregos is known for presenting that which would not be seen otherwise. She could run with the commercial theater – and has – but at this time we issue thanks for providing theater that is in resistance to the expected.
Now it is Nigerian playwright Adé Ademola. Adé is a writer with law degrees and a Yale playwriting background. He’s a produced playwright. This is only interesting in light that a black man from Africa can write a picture-perfect play of white manners located in London in the 80’s with situation, humor, idiom, accent, jargon, tone, appurtenances exactly in tact. Of course Ademola knows that culture, but it is thrilling to me that we have a play where no one can decipher the race, gender or nationality of the playwright. I have long fought for the understanding that all plays are not autobiography, or psychological self-references; and that theater is fiction. I wish to expand this theme a little more to say that 100 years ago only a sliver of the population would have access to distinguished material that crossed cultures. Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote Herrick, an exquisite play in the 18th century language of the time, because he was an intellectual who traveled in the stream of history and knowledge. Yet, we know him mainly for the poetry in African American dialect that he left behind. The world is a better place for dramatists who enter different cultures in literature than it was 100 years ago.
THE HAPPY IDEA is highly imagined and a well made piece. It puts four characters on a pivot toward one another and let’s them slug it out with great aplomb. There is a real plot, which develops because characters intersect with strong action lines. Call me old fashioned for liking this. The play turns on whether or not the young man, Terence (Lino Delcore) ever had a sexual liaison with the older gentleman boarder Angus, played expertly by Lawrence Merritt. Suspense followed to its conclusion comes from this, the central hub in the play. The only detour on the well paved road was the scene between the men when encounter becomes confrontation, and the revolving door of the relationship moves a little too rapidly to process the mind's experience through the mind’s language...even from one possible psychopathic personality. This may account for the audience holding differing views of “the truth” in the relationship. One is not sure if that rapid-fire transaction is in the writing or the rendering. But let me say this is a very small flaw in a totally satisfying production with a smart stylish script and actors who could take this to a larger stage with great public acclaim. Marilyn Bernard (Mrs. B) is a great one, we ‘d go to see for her hands alone, and Stephanie Stone for her energetic singing.
Producer/Director Shela Xeroxes is impeccable with material because she knows that what we attach value to is what shines. There is song and music throughout the play. Scholar, musicologist Eugene Abrams chose time period music, and recorded his own piano playing for stage use. Here is why I champion the technical expertise in theater. One heartbeat off and the dialogue dependent on the music and its execution would have been disastrous. Bring those technicians on next time for a curtain call. And also the costume designers Elgie Chevalier and asst. Elizabeth Hammett. As a writer, I know what kind of a platform must be built on which to show off the best possible words. And Adé Ademola has given us the best possible words this summer in New York.
Through June 18 (212-868-4444)
Grace Cavalieri is a Playwright, a Poet, and Producer of “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress" on public radio.