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There Is A Happiness That Morning Is

The dialectic of life and death is explored through the writings of the immortal William Blake via two lectures in rhymed verse, one in the morning by Bernard (Jeremy Make), a barely published poet of scant scholarship, on the Songs of Innocence (1789), and one in the afternoon by his lover, Ellen (Amanda Berg Wilson), a reputable Ph.D., on the Songs of Experience (1789-94).

Amanda Berg Wilson as Ellen and Jeremy Make as Bernard
Amanda Berg Wilson as Ellen
and Jeremy Make as Bernard
Photo: Michael Ensminger
For poetry lovers, the drama of intercutting the two lovers defending the conflicting points-of-view in these masterworks, would have been thrilling enough, but, in the context of an "inappropriate" public display of passion the previous afternoon on the campus commons, the lovers' lectures become pleadings for their continued employment at this rural, backwater campus, as well as the viability of their relationship and, consummately, for the way we live our lives and order our priorities from moment to moment.

Jeremy Make as Bernard
Jeremy Make as Bernard
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In this regional premiere, the playwright, Mickle Maher, wows us with his own erudite and clever poesy, as well as an eyebrow-raising story that takes Blake at his word, conjuring up circumstances and a backstory that leaves us breathless. Much as John Donne's Holy Sonnets provided poignant commentary in Margaret Edson's 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning Wit, Maher infuses these proceedings and the characters themselves with the personification of Blake's sentiments.

Bernard chooses to explicate "Infant Joy," from Songs of Innocence, not only to exhibit Blake's genius, but to express his own happiness.

INFANT JOY

'I have no name;
I am but two days old.'
What shall I call thee?
'I happy am,
Joy is my name.'
Sweet joy befall thee!

Pretty joy!
Sweet joy, but two days old.
Sweet joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while;
Sweet joy befall thee!

Amanda Berg Wilson as Ellen
Amanda Berg Wilson as Ellen
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Ellen analyzes "The Sick Rose," from Songs of Experience, to inform us of her own physical and spiritual condition.

THE SICK ROSE

O rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

As the lecturers and their relationship are driven to the brink by their divergent views and what appears to be their irreconciliable differences, Maher employs the Greek failsafe deus ex machina in the form of their college dean (Jim Walker), to redefine the issues and challenge his charges to find the answers in Blake's work. Little does the dean realize the radical (and comical) implications of his pleadings.

Jeremy Make as Bernard and Amanda Berg Wilson as Ellen
Jeremy Make as Bernard
and Amanda Berg Wilson as Ellen
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Make's good humor and passion as Bernard sell us on the fellow's sincerity, even if his scholarship may be lacking; so, when Ellen lowers the boom, we cannot help but feel sorry for the poor guy. Berg Wilson is the consumate scholar as Ellen, but it her tristesse that gets us in the heart. Walker has great fun with the dean's unexpected entrance and has us in stitches with a series of hilarious admissions.

The final scene will leave you smiling for days. It's as if the dean, as a contemporary stand-in for the archetypal stock character Il Dottore from Commedia dell'Arte, gets his final comeuppance!

The Catamounts' regional premiere of Mickle Maher's There Is A Happiness That Morning Is has one performance remaining, on Sunday, March 30th, at 7:00 PM at The Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder. For tickets: www.thecatamounts.org/tickets/

Bob Bows

 

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