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Wild with Happy's Forrest McClendon at Center Stage

Gil (Forrest McClendon) remembers his mother (Stephanie Berry)
Gil (Forrest McClendon) remembers his mother (Stephanie Berry)
Richard Anderson

He’s Forrest. He’s Gil.

He’s Gil. He’s Forrest.

Truly gifted actors lose themselves in their characters to the point that when you “see” them on stage (or camera) you actually “see” the character, not the actor. In Center Stages’ Wild with Happy, Tony nominated Forrest McClendon does a marvelous job of becoming the grief stricken, no touching, Gil. In becoming Gil, Forrest had the blessing of playwriter, Colman Domingo along with some instructions.

“His direction to me was that I bring as much of myself to the role as possible. His argument was ‘I don’t see a lot of black men exactly like you on stage. So what I would like to see you.’ It makes it easier in some ways and infinitely harder in some ways. “

McClendon makes it looks easy and simple. Even as he broke frame to “bless” an audience member that sneezed during Act 1, McClendon didn’t miss a beat of dialogue. This strong presence and awareness comes from being extremely comfortable with himself, “It allows me to connect. Unless you are really comfortable with yourself, you don’t want to go out and expose yourself in front of 400 people every night. This play allowed me to do some digging of my own, some real healing and real sharing.”

Wild with Happy deals with grief, loss, and love primarily through the thoughts, ideas, and emotions of the main character, Gil. The character Mo, who arrives to help Gil, is actually based on a childhood friend of Domingo. Mo serves as a slice of normalcy for Gil in this seemingly insane world of loss. “Mo is literally the piece that puts Gil’s feet back on the ground,” McClendon explained. “The difficulty for Gil is that he is already grief stricken with two major losses (work and love). So, third strike is his mother. It’s something really strange about a person having to live in anticipate of someone’s death.”

Gil’s lack of faith in God is another large part of his struggle. As an incredibly faithful person, McClendon found that aspect of Gil the hardest to connect with in preparing for the role. “One big difference is that me and God are tight, we have always been tight. I have never felt that God wasn’t on my side. I would blame people before I would blame God. “

In giving up the ultimate power – faith, Gil leaves himself open and shuts down when he finds himself facing the death of his mother. “I really believed in the message of the play in that the other side of loss is incredible love,” he shared. “The only reason you feel so much pain when you lose these people is because you loved the person very much.”

Catch Forrest and the cast of Wild With Happy at Center Stage through June 29. Bring tissue – there will be tears from laughing and crying.