2011's nine-week, sold-out run of Maher’s beautiful ode to love, sex, and the poetry of William Blake inspired The Chronicle’s Everett Evans to begin his review, “I can scarcely contain my enthusiasm for Catastrophic Theatre’s ideally realized presentation of Mickle Maher’s delightfully original There Is A Happiness That Morning Is, so I’m not even going to try.”
Bernard and Ellen are college professors and scholars of the poet William Blake. The night before we meet them, they have been overtaken by their common passion and spontaneously made love on the public green for all to see. Now they must apologize for or successfully defend their act to the students that witnessed it or lose their tenured positions. Moreover, what they do next will profoundly impact each one’s ability to remain in the lives they’ve know for literally decades before.The play is presented as two lectures – one idealistic and impassioned, the other defiant but conflicted. Delivered entirely in rhymed verse, the play nevertheless possesses a pronounced comedic and contemporary sensibility. The verse is quick and the rhymes are sharp, but it is what’s at their bottom that matters. Though they speak of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, they do so in the service of a real, hard look at love, its difficulties and its miracles.
In There is a Happiness That Morning Is, Maher is focused on how differently two people can view even the most intimate shared experience and the impact that difference might have on their lives.
Of course, all Maher plays are up to something more than meets the eye. His work is known for wildly inventive conceits married to deeply resonant themes. In Spirits to Enforce, Maher recast Shakespearean characters as superheroes to examine nostalgia and a yearning to return to a fulfilling former life. The Strangerer mashed up the Bush-Kerry presidential debates with Albert Camus’ classic text, casting Bush as an existential hero in search of meaning. One need not be familiar in any way with Blake, Shakespeare or Camus to experience the grandest qualities of his plays. The clever setups are always transcended by deeper questions.
Maher’s plays are reliably touching, but are also always extraordinarily funny. The sort of funny that has audiences falling out of their chairs. An extraordinary romantic comedy, told almost entirely in verse, Catastrophic is bringing this one back because you demanded it. Nodler directs Catastrophic stars Amy Bruce, Troy Schulze, and Kyle Sturdivant in their original roles.
Catch it early if you can. There’s an excellent chance you’ll want to return with friends.