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A CurtainUp Review
Wonder of the World
By Elyse Sommer
Readers who saw David Lindsay-Abaire's first play, Fuddy Meers (see link below), which was also produced by Manhattan Theatre Club, will remember that it too was about a married woman trying to find herself. The new play has all the common sense defying zaniness and eccentric characters that distinguished Mr. Lindsay-Abaire's first big time stage outing. Its central character, Cass Harris, is once again a sort of modern day Alice through the looking glass, underscored by a title that seems to purposely associate itself with Lewis Carroll.
Cass, while charmingly played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is not in any real danger and thus less vulnerable and sympathetic than Claire of Fuddy Meers. The new play is not a deeper more substantive follow-up, with less cartoonish characters. Instead, it is basically a reprise of Fuddy Meers, and a less incisive one at that. Nevertheless, it confirms the author as a genuine talent whose madcap imagination and snappy dialogue will one of these days coalesce into a project that will get it all right. In the meantime, Cass's journey from Park Slope, Brooklyn to Niagara Falls offers enough fun -- especially given its slick staging and performances -- to make you forget the troubles in the real world which compensates for its shortcomings.
The pleasures of the play begin with the cast. The seven actors are blissfully in touch with the script's over-the-top characters and their surprising revelations and connections.
Alan Tudyk, with his bland, all-American nice guy good looks, plays Cass's husband Kip with just the right understatement to emphasize the weirdness of the dark secret that triggers the marital blowup. Without giving away any details, Kip's secret life has something to do with Barbie dolls and you don't need a graduate degree in psychology to realize that his Barbie thing is tied to the neediness in the Cass-Kim dynamic.
Cass embarks on her journey armed with a lengthy must-do list (a rather forced device, as is obvious from such list items as "get a sidekick, wear a blonde wig, learn Swedish, find your soul mate"). The first item on her list is fulfilled when she meets Kristine Nielsen, an alcoholic with a death wish. Unlike Cass, she is an abandoned spouse rather than an abandoner and she now wants to abandon life by going over Niagara Fall riding an empty pickle barrel. Nielsen is solidly built, dry and sardonic, a fine foil to the petite and sunny Parker.
To propel the antics of this Thelma and Louise à la Lindsay-Abaire, there's Fuddy Meer's crazy-talking mom, Mary Louise Burke as Karla, half of a wickedly funny keystone cop team of detectives (Bill Raymond equally hilarious as her partner Glen) hired by Kip to track down Cass. Kevin Chamberlin adds yet another and very human equation as Captain Mike of the sightseeing ship Maid of the Mist who becomes the other man in Cass's life. The drolly rotund and always endearing Chamberlin, like Parker, seems more normal than the rest of these outlandish characters and yet there's his penchant for Cosco's over-sized wares which led to his beloved wife's death-by-giant-peanut-butter-jar (Symbol hunters take note: Kip's taste for small Barbie dolls, Captain Mike's for things big, and Lois's settling for large or small bottles as long as they are filled with booze).
Swelling the cast of weirdos is the amazingly versatile Amy Sedaris. She plays a helicoptor pilot, all the waitresses in three uproariously funny scenes alternating between three different theme restaurants; and, finally and funniest, a marriage counsellor who, aptly dressed in her moonlighting career's clown costume, conducts a group marital session that convulses the audience in laughter.
While Christopher Ashley is unable to make Wonder of the World particularly moving or memorable, his nonstop tempo does make the most of its wacky humor. If the show has a real star it's David Gallo who has outdone himself in devising more than a half a dozen sliding and swivelling sets that tap into the skewered playfulness of the script. Delightfully drop dead as the sets are, they do make one hope that in Mr. Linday-Abaire's next play, the sets will not have to do quite so much heavy lifting.
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