PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Colman Domingo, Writer and Star of The Public's Wild With Happy

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10 Oct 2012

Colman Domingo
Colman Domingo

Colman Domingo returns to The Public Theater, where he helped populate Passing Strange. This time, he's a playwright-actor, conjuring a new play about dealing with death.


Over the past few seasons, New York theatregoers have gotten a good idea what sort of actor Colman Domingo is. He played significant roles in two high-profile Off-Broadway musicals: Stew's Passing Strange at the Public Theater; and Kander and Ebb's The Scottsboro Boys at the Vineyard Theatre. Both transferred to Broadway. Most recently he starred in Athol Fugard's Blood Knot for Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company. Now audiences are getting a taste of what kind of playwright he is (while still being reminded of his skills as a performer). Domingo stars in the Public Theater production of his own new play Wild With Happy. He plays Gil, a man who has just lost his mother, and is dealing with the disposal of her remains. Domingo spoke to about how the new work strikes close to home.

This new play of yours was inspired by personal experience.
Colman Domingo: Yes it was. It's funny — in the beginning I didn't think it was. I thought I was exploring something about mother-son relationships. And then not only my story became part of the journey, but also those of friends and relatives. It became an amalgamation of many stories of grief and dealing with the bizarre, surreal time during that process. I wanted to focus on a character who was more unlike myself, someone who was not at the center of his own grieving state. I was actually someone who more leaned forward into the grieving of my parents' passing in 2006. I dove deep into it and emerged, I think, a different person — a bit more enlightened, a bit open, loving and generous, I think. Gil is sort of a lot of me, but on the flip side.

How long after the death of your parents did you started writing it?
CD: I started writing this play two years ago. Right after I appeared in The Scottsboro Boys.

Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon in The Scottsboro Boys.
photo by Paul Kolnik

I know you wrote one play before this. Is this your second?
CD: This is actually my fourth play.

You say the character takes the opposite emotional tack than you did in your own experience with the passing of a loved one. His mother dies, right?
CD: Yes. And he's an only child. The weight of the process, what to do with a person's remains, how do you put a person in the ground, is on him, and is in direct contrast with his aunt, who is more of a traditionalist. He makes an abrupt decision about what to do, based on economics, based on trying to move through the process quickly. He makes a rash decision, and it's in direct conflict with what his aunt believes should be done. She believes there's a certain way to deal with a person's remains. And this guy asks "Why? Why can't we try something different?"

You're playing the lead character. Does that makes things tricky? Does the character's experience gets mixed up in your mind with your own?
CD: It doesn't. Initially, I kept trying to not be in the show. Every workshop we did, I tried to be just the playwright. But whether it was economics or whatever, my director Robert O'Hara said, "Colman I think you should just do this one." Thematically, yes, I relate to the character. But a lot of the aspects of the character are not from my experience, truly, and the way my heart operates. This is a very icy character, honestly. A little cold. A little shut off. Part of his journey is to become a believer again, to have some hope, some faith. When we're dealt a hard hand, hopefully we all try to find a little hope that we will rise again.


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