Next Act Theatre explores a playfully classy romantic mood with its latest. Mickle Maher’s There is a Happiness That Morning Is dances whimsically across the stage in rhyming verse as two actors speak of lust, love and so much else in monologues diving into dialogue which graces the stage for 90 minutes without intermission. The audience serves as a large class of undergraduates listening into a lecture that may be the last for either one of the two professors. They had engaged in very public lovemaking on the college campus and now they’ve each been asked to apologize to their students for the inappropriate behavior. Maher frames, the alternating monologues and graceful, rhyming verse that is so elegant that it scarcely feels like the poetry it so clearly is. It feels very natural, very casual very carefully constructed in crushingly beautiful all at once.
Neil Brookshire plays Bernard. His printing on the chalkboard is simple, very neat and very legible. He passionately speaks of the primacy of young love. He speaks the title, like it truly means something very deep in and within him. There’s a great emotional depth to what he is presenting. He manages a great deal of strength and wisdom that are also very childlike. It’s a cleverly captivating dichotomy that echoes so many of the rest of the dichotomies reverberating throughout the drama. Through it all, Brookshire remains radiantly charismatic. Bernard is attempting a deeply fearless aesthetic honesty that Brookshire fully embraces.
Cassandra Bissell plays Ellen. Her handwriting on the chalkboard is a dense cursive. She speaks with powerfully articulated vulgarity. She’s frustrated for a great many reasons. And there is a great elegance to her wit. Bissell slides deftly through a some of the most powerful emotions imaginable. She does so in a way that holds it all at an intellectual distance just a far enough away from her and the audience to appreciate its beauty. Ellen is passionately searching for the truth knowing full well the weight of the time that has been given to her. Bissell’s grasp of Ellen’s immediacy is inspiring.
Mark Corkins adds a crazy energy to the conflicts at the end of the drama. His passion crests over the passions of the other two with every bit as much manic exaggeration as the script seems to call for. There’s a real desperation in his performance, which provides a passionate counterpoint to the drama going on between the male and female leads.
Director Mary MacDonald Kerr has fostered a dynamic between the three actors that allows for very fluid transitions between moments of monologue. It would have been all too easy for flat and relatively lifeless transitions as one actor gives away to another in the alternation between contrasting passions. Kerr has assured that the overlapping energies of each actor exists in a very dynamic interplay. The other two actors aren’t always necessarily always present when one is addressing the audience, but the presence of every actor in the show is felt quite profoundly from beginning to end.
Next Act Theatre’s production of There is a Happiness That Morning Is runs through March 19th at the space on 255 S. Water St. For ticket reservations and more, visit Next Act online.