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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
Wonder of the World
By Elyse Sommer
Don't be surprised that a real barrel figures as an important prop -- a barrel once used for pickles and now a depressed alcoholic's weapon for self-destruction. If a character bent on doing herself in doesn't sound very funny, then you're probably unfamiliar with Mr. Lindsay-Abaire's quirky comedies that have you laughing so hard that it takes a while for the dark undercurrents of his take on the state of American society, especially pertaining to female identity and marriage, to work their way into your consciousness.
While his most recent play, Rabbit Run, proved that this immensely talented young playwright can write more realistic dramas, his reputation as an up-and-comer was based on three fantastical dark comedies -- Fuddy Meers, Wonder of the World and Kimberly Akimbo. All three plays take audiences on a wild ride with characters whose actions and personas tend to be too bizarre to be believable and yet manage to be so endearing that you buy into the zany cartoon setups because the playwright is inventive enough so that he unfailingly lands his arrow smack on your funny bone.
No small measure of the success of Mr. Linsay-Abaire's plays derived from the Manhattan Theatre Club's terrifically cast and staged productions. But Berkshirites can rest assured that Barrington Stage's revival of Wonder. . . is no second banana to the original. This cast is up to the challenge posed by its nonstop build-up of daffy coincidences. Director Rob Ruggiero sees to it that everything and everyone rises to the play's full comic potential. And though Barrington Stage's new home in Pittsfield won't be ready until next month necessitating one last production to be mounted in a high school auditorium, Luke Hegel-Cantarella's colorful foldout scenic design is as sophisticated and versatile as you could wish for. The all-around excellence is completed by Anne Kenney's witty costumes, Scott Pinkney's lighting and Vincent Olivieri's catchy sound design.
Like the breakout Fuddy Meers, this is a Through the Looking Glass meets Ibsen's Doll House saga about a troubled and more than a little ditzy married woman. As Claire's amnesia erases her husband from her memory in Fuddy Meers, so Wonder of the World's Cass remembers all too well her husband's confession about the secret deviate behavior that has made their 7-year marriage a sham. (As Cass puts it: "Look, I agreed to marry you based on what I knew to be true. Kip equals X. X will make me happy. Everything added up. Seven years later I find out you're not X at all, you're Z. And if you're Z, then I did the math wrong. Z is no good. I would never have said yes to Z").
As Ibsen's Nora slams the door on her life, so Cass scratches the 7-year itch aggravated by Kip's revelation by packing her suitcase. Mum's the word on that revelation but only Lindsay-Abaire could connect Barbie Dolls and Rapunzel! Cass sets out determined to activate her long neglected wish list of things she wants to experience to make her life interesting and meaningful. High on this list is a trip to Niagara Falls that she almost took with her parents before deciding to marry Kip instead. Catching up on that trip is a way of dealing with the idea that if she'd been along, the accident that killed her mother and crippled her father would not have happened.
Cass's Niagara adventure, the people she meets and gets involved with on the way and the final scene in that already mentioned barrel have to be seen to be believed and enjoyed. Suffice it to say, that it's an enjoyable ride even though, some changes the playwright has made for this production notwithstanding, the ultimately unsatisfying, fizz-out ending remains a major flaw and the cartoon quality of the character never quite allows any real emotional depth to be plumbed. (Click on the link to my review of the original production below for more plot and character details)
Keira Naughton invests the role originated by Sarah Jessica Parker with her own brash charm. Finnerty Steeves is just right as the alcoholic Lois who's a left rather than a leaving wife. Libby George and William Bogert are hilarious as the keystone cops amateur sleuths who are a far cry from your typically happily long marrieds. Of the two men in Cass's life, Brian Hutchinson's Kip is a likeable loser and Dan Cantor does well by the very normal Captain Mike (well almost-- nobody is completely what they seem).
As in the Manhattan Threatre Club version, the play's big scene stealer is the multiple role player. Susan Louise O'Connor is outrageously hilarious whether playing a bald woman whose big wig satisfies another wish on Cass's list, a Niagra Falls sightseeing plane's pilot, 3 waitresses in a triple-barreled restaurant scene or a therapist-cum-clown.
If I have one complaint about the staging it's that the audience can't really see what's happening on the TV screen during the first scene when Cass is packing for her flight from domesticity. The movie that's playing is a Marilyn Monroe film called Niagra-- and having that TV set in the lobby would have given not just a few people in the front row a chance to see this sly set-up for what's to come. A minor quibble, in an otherwise thoroughly entertaining comedy.
Wonder of the World (MTC production)