The Road of Excess
Two William Blake scholars, inspired by Blake’s poetry, decide to make love in public, an act that occurs before the curtain rises. Mickle Maher’s play There is a Happiness That Morning Is begins with two lectures in rhymed verse, one by each of the offending academics, who must decide whether to apologize for their actions or lose tenure. When the Catastrophic Theatre first staged the play in 2011, it received rave reviews and sold out its nine-week run. Now the play is back with its original cast (Amy Bruce, Troy Schulze, and Kyle Turdivant) and director (Jason Nodler).
Houstonia spoke with Troy Schulze and Jason Nodler by phone today.
Houstonia: Mickle Maher wrote this play in rhyming couplets. Did that pose any difficulties?
Jason: The first time we produced the play, in 2011, we had to decide how to handle the verse—were we going to hit the rhymes hard or were we going to say the lines naturally? I think we found a really good balance, and the response bore that out. We were told by the audience that it was really remarkable to them that the language was so beautiful and poetic and yet it felt so natural.
Troy: I think the fact that [Maher] wrote it in rhymed verse is an incredible stunt, and also an amazing thing to do in contemporary literature. The rhymes make it easier to remember, for sure. I just finished acting inWaiting for Godot, where I had a two-page monologue, and that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to memorize. In this play, when you follow the meter and the rhyme the performance just comes naturally. I don’t find myself thinking a lot [on stage]—I can just concentrate on the role.
Houstonia: What makes this play different in terms of its production and staging?
Troy: When you walk in and see the set, which is a chalkboard and a few chairs, you might not expect much to happen, but so much happens in the play. That’s what Mickle is best at—taking these simple set-ups, and then making something
unpredictable happen that you would never have expected.
Jason: As a director I don’t do much staging—I really prefer that the actors find their way intuitively. [At the Catastrophic Theatre] our work is very much about a search for authenticity and meaning in one’s life. It’s very Jungian in that way. I discourage the actors from creating characters want them to bring themselves to these roles, to imagine that they could have become these characters if their lives had taken a different turn. So actually the staging changes from night to night. For [the actors] to really be feeling these things, I feel like it’s important that they go in the way that their bodies take them.
Houstonia: Do audience members need to know anything about William Blake to enjoy the play?
Troy: No, not at all. Mickle does a great job of teaching you about Blake, although there have been poetry professors who have come to the show and they get a real kick out of it, because they already have that knowledge in their pocket. The play isn’t really about Blake, it’s about what all great plays are about, which is love and death.
Jason: I think it’s the most accessible play we’ve put on, even though it’s in verse. I get upset when someone says the play made them think, because I don’t want them to think. I want them to feel. It’s quite beautiful, and quite cathartic.