WONDER OF THE WORLDby David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Mikey Abrams
Set Design by Jeff Mabray
Lighting Design by Ian Garland
Costume Design by Suzi Cranford
Sound Design by Mikey Abrams
Prop Design by Lindsey Humphries
Media Design by Ashley H. White
Cass - Rae Harvill
Kip - Michael Speck
Lois - Laura Warner
Karla - Alice Montgomery
Glen - Chris Hauge
Captain Mike - Billy Betsill
Barbara/Pilot/3 Waitresses/Janie played by Caroline Dubberly
Reviewed Performance: 5/24/2013
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is probably best known in theater circles for his Pulitzer Prize winning script, Rabbit Hole, later made into a film with Nicole Kidman. He also has Tony nominations for the book and lyrics for Shrek: The Musical (which also received Grammy nominations for Best Musical Show Album). Fuddy Meers, was his first success, Wonder of the World, his second, both at the Manhattan Theatre Club where his latest play, Good People, also opened.
Film work includes the screenplays for Rabbit Hole, Rise of the Guardians, and Oz: The Great and Powerful. According to Rotten Tomatoes, he lists Edward Albee, 1930’s screwball comedy films, the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello among his influences. “Walking a fine line between grave reality and joyous lunacy, the world of his plays is often dark, funny, blithe, enigmatic, hopeful, ironic – and somewhat cock-eyed.” While we may not immediately think of Rabbit Hole in those terms, Wonder of the World, which opened in 2001 starring Sarah Jessica Parker in the lead role, certainly falls into that category!
When our heroine Cass discovers something unbelievably shocking in the sweater drawer of her husband Kip, she runs away to Niagara Falls to find a new life, determined to check off every last thing on her 200 point bucket list. On the way, she meets a happily suicidal alcoholic, a very nice boat captain, and two of the most unlikely private detectives you’re liable to come across. There’s also a woman suffering from pattern baldness, several waitresses and a therapist dressed as a clown, and oh yes, a large pickle barrel and shopping at Costco thrown in for good measure.
The production by Rover Dramawerks which opened May 24th, mainly succeeds in bringing all these wildly original and damaged people together in a much more than adequate manner. If some of the darker undercurrents and tragedies of these people’s lives are glossed over leaving the show without quite the depth it might have had, it certainly doesn’t lack in enthusiasm and good cheer. The tight ensemble is obviously having a great time and the audience gladly joins in for the wild ride over the falls. Having a cast so clearly enjoying themselves without a “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” to the audience is refreshing to experience.
Director Mikey Abrams sets a brisk pace, which this kind of show needs, and the cast seldom lags. Using the clean and sparse set made of cubes and platforms painted in shades of blue and designed by Jeff Mabray to his advantage, Mr. Abrams keeps the action moving between many different locales greatly aided by the power point presentation of photos of the action, setting the scene and humorously commenting on the often bizarre antics of these randomly assembled people.
Lighting by Ian Garland helps us follow the action and the pop songs aptly chosen for the moment add a laugh and keep the mood light and fast paced.
The costumes by Suzi Cranford do their part to distinguish characters,
mark the swift passage of time and comment on the personalities. I particularly liked the paper crown on top of the Captain’s hat at the Medieval Times rip-off restaurant.
The black box space, arranged in a three-quarter configuration for this production, works well for the script, offering entrances from several points and good sight lines for all. Clever props by Lindsey Humphries contribute to the over-all style of this production.
In the lead role of Cass, Rae Harvill is incredibly charismatic and bubbly. Even her curly red hair seems to radiate energy. It’s impossible to take your eyes off her when she’s on stage.
Each check-off on her list: wear yellow, wear a wig, get a sidekick, is accompanied by genuine delight. If some of Cass’ darker side gets short shrift and occasionally Ms. Harvill appears to push a little too hard, her performance is always enjoyable. She manages to nail the humor and the difficult tone of the last scene.
Laura Warner as Lois, the boozy, unwilling-at-first, sidekick, reminds
me of Wanda Sykes in her delivery, which for this role, is not a bad thing at all. She does manage to shade her performance in moments of reflection about her ex with genuine pathos and her realization that he is off to the pyramids is funny and heartbreaking at the same time. If she too seems to over emote at moments, it is perhaps a pitfall of the script that makes it difficult to avoid.
Michael Speck as Kip and Billy Betsill as Captain Mike, the two men in Cass’ life, are both hilariously right in their roles. Strangely enough, they are similar in build and coloring, and the resemblance works in the bizarre world of this play. Each is sincere, deeply wounded or flawed, and desperate for Cass’ affection. The sweaters of Captain Mike and Kip’s secret in his sweater drawer – and the long red sweater he wears – tie in nicely.
Both actors capture the vulnerability of their characters as well as the humor, and Mr. Speck, especially, is adept at the physical craziness.
Again, if neither quite manages to shade their performances with some of the darker colors of their personas, it is made up for by their energy and enthusiasm.
The real-life wedded couple of Alice Montgomery and Chris Hauge play Karla and Glen, a married couple of bumbling non-certified private detectives sent by Kip to find Cass. As these characters, they throw themselves into their assumed identities with abandon, completely unaware of how inept they are. Each brings their own brand of comic timing and physical shtick to their roles. Their funny antics add to the general festive air of the show.
And last, but by no means least, is Caroline Dubberly in the multiple roles of Barbara, suffering from pattern baldness, three distinct and hysterical waitresses and, best of all, the therapist who shows up in her clown suit, complete with red afro wig, horn and big shoes, from her gig at a children’s hospital. The therapy session and Newlywed Game she conducts with the other characters are a highlight of the show. Ms. Dubberly swiftly and elegantly delineates each character with a few deft strokes from her considerable bag of theatrical tricks – or should I say skills.
This is an early script from Mr. Lindsay-Abaire and it shows in some aspects, but it is so genuinely strange and engaging that I really don’t care. The perhaps reference to Alice in Wonderland in the title is supported by Lois’ joke about “Drink me! Eat me!” with the tiny booze bottles and the ginormous container of Cheetos and parallels could probably be drawn with some of the other characters as well.
I like the playwright’s quirky sense of humor, and the mixture of tragedy and farce and wildly illogical coincidence, I find intriguing and delightful. One of the characters says, “It may not be what you had in mind, but life can be like that.” That sort of sums up the play for me. Another couple of lines I liked that come at the end of the play and relate to the weird coincidences that start to pile up go, “Maybe it’s the hand of God!” answered by “And maybe it’s just a rock.” Food for thought.
Second Thought Theater presented this play several years ago, but I’m not aware of another production done locally since that time. If you have not yet experienced this script, and if you enjoy the off-beat, funny and strange, the production now playing at the Cox Building Playhouse and presented by Rover Dramawerks is well done and worth a trip. You will be thoroughly entertained and delighted and impressed with the skill of this fine ensemble.
Cox Building Playhouse, 1517 H. Avenue, Plano, TX 75074
Runs through June 15
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm
Matinee on Saturday, June 1st at 2:00pm
Ticket Prices are Thursday evenings and matinee $16.00, Friday and Saturday evenings $20.00
For info & tix go to www.roverdramawerks.com or call 972-849-0358