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THERE IS HAPPINESS (and absurdity) at Cleveland Public Theatre

THERE IS A HAPPINESS (and absurdity) at Cleveland Public Theatre

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)

Poet, painter and printmaker William Blake was considered to be mad by many of his contemporaries due to his out-of-the-time attitudes.  The mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth century writer is also considered to be one of the leaders of the Romantic Age, but his work was mainly unappreciated until after his death.  Part of this was because of his hostility toward organized religion, that he wrote for the common man rather than the aristocrats, and he created ideas from his imagination rather than paying homage to nature and God.

It is only appropriate that Mickel Maher, who is noted for his ridiculous and deliberate writing of dry intellectually rigorous academic matters, to pen a play about two eccentrics who teach at a failing small college in a wooded area.  Yes, THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS should have made Blake proud because the protagonists are cerebral rebels who find themselves in conflict with the institution’s authority, and speak from their emotional centers while searching for their versions of truth.

The literate, profound, quirky, and absurd script, which had its world premiere in 2009, is written in subtle verse.  It centers on the lectures of two poetry professors whose specialty is the poetry of William Blake.  The duo had a publicly observed romp in the bushes the night before and we now observe while each appears before their classes (the audience) to explain both Blake and their actions.  They have been told to apologize for their behavior or lose their jobs.

Bernard, a middle-aged lecturer, a former folk singer who is short on scholarship and long on boundless optimism, gleefully explains, in blank verse, paralleling his thoughts to those of Blake’s poems about love, complete with writing them not only on the blackboard, but the floor, while he rants and challenges the students.

Ellen, his pessimistic partner in the public show of affection, is angry about having to apologize to the college President who she detests.  Her biting words use language that is sardonic, gross and lowbrow.

Bernard espouses more than he should.  Ellen rants in rhyme schemes, cadences and poetic tone.  They debate in earnest, often with humorous results until the college’s President emerges from a classroom seat, adds a bizarre twist to the proceedings, and hysteria reigns supreme.

Brian Pedaci is earnestly delightful as Bernard.  He portrays well the lecturer who knows little about Blake, yet waxes brilliantly about him.

Derdriu Ring is dogmatically perfect as, Ellen, the put upon professor who is indignant that her credentials and abilities are being brought into question by a college leader who she neither respects nor recognizes.

Matthew Wright steals the show as President James Dean, whose obsessive love has cost him his fortune and ethical center.  His performance is a not to be missed experience.

Todd Krispinsky’s set, which cleverly combines a classroom and the woods, helps develop the bizarre mood of the play.

In the hands of a less competent director than Beth Wood, and a superb cast, this overly talky rhyming script would fall flat on its face.  Instead, it becomes a somewhat profound and definitely entertaining evening of theatre

Capsule judgement: If you went to college, and took a course in poetry, you’ll find yourself morphing back and wishing that your professors had had a romp in the grass, and expressed themselves with such absurd hysterical language, as the duo in THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS, which is getting a fine production at CPT.

THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS runs through May 25  at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to