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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Dreamcatcher Wonder of the World:
Laugh Out Loud Comedy at its Best

Also see Bob's review of Dracula

Wonder of the World
Laura Ekstrand
David Lindsay-Abaire repeatedly compounds the topsy-turvy situations of his unique Alice in Wonderlandesque comedies. They are as logical and realistic at their core as they are bizarre on the surface. His style is unique, encapsulating the readily accessible screwball comedies of Hollywood's Golden Age and the highbrow intelligence of the best of the Theatre of the Absurd. All of this is delightfully on view in Dreamcatcher Repertory's exceptional, and exceptionally uproarious, production of his 2001 Wonder of the World.

As with each of his comic inventions, a quick summary of the plot gives no idea of what awaits the theatergoer. Cass is leaving Kip, her heartbroken husband of seven years. Cass has just discovered items hidden in the back of Kip's sweater drawer that that led her to the knowledge that he receives sexual satisfaction from an undeniably perverse but harmless behavior. This is both why and not why she is leaving him. It crystallizes for her the fact that her marriage has been unfulfilling because Kip has not lived up to her expectations in many of his ways. Lindsay-Abaire has Cass describe her reasoning as bizarrely, succinctly and unassailably as only he can. Cass explains that she married Kip based upon what she thought she knew him to be. Cass thought that Kip equaled X and that X would make her happy. But now she knows that Kip equals Z. As the math was wrong, she made a mistake in marrying him.

Cass leaves her home in Park Slope and catches a bus to Niagara Falls at the Port Authority. She has a list of well over 200 things that she wants to do, any number of which she has not done because of Kip's inhibitions. On the bus, she gets to fulfill two of the items on her list by talking to a stranger and, in so doing, getting herself a sidekick. Lois, the stranger and new sidekick, is a suicidal alcoholic who has been abandoned by her disgusted husband. She is traveling with a barrel in which she is planning to go over Niagara Falls.

Soon, Cass and Lois will become involved with Karla and Glen, an elderly couple who turn out to be bumbling private detectives hired by Kip to find Cass; Maid of the Mist skipper Captain Mike who Cass thinks may the man to whom she is fated to be mated; and the sobbing Kip himself who drives up to the Falls to trying to reclaim Cass. Also involved are several women who by the author's design are played by one comic actor in several cameos and, finally, the pivotal role of a clown moonlighting as a marriage counselor.

Wonder of the World, which calls for some very tricky scenic designs, received a large and slick, well cast production at the Manhattan Theatre Club featuring Sarah Jessica Parker in the role of Cass. Economic necessity requires Dreamcatcher to achieve its scenic effects in a less high-tech fashion. However, have no fear. With the aid of the intimate staging of David Maulbeck, the clever and delightful scenic design of Bill Motyka, and a cast led by members of Dreamcatcher's repertory company (who also perform as its improvisational comedy troupe Multiple Personality Disorder), all of the uproarious humor of Wonder of the World remains intact.

Laura Ekstrand brings sweetness and sensuality, vulnerability and intelligence, and excellent comic timing to the role of Cass. Ekstrand is everything that anyone could hope for here. Noreen Farley as Lois is mordantly funny, bringing total conviction to the most outlandish behavior. Harry Patrick Christian has just the right off-beat quality as Kip, the milquetoast husband who might well cast an eye on Cass' new boyfriend Captain Mike. David Miceli brings a nice deadpan style to the role of Captain Mike. Although on the surface, Mike appears unlike Kip, Miceli emphasizes the stolidity which Cass may be leaving out of her calculations about him. Angela Della Ventura and David Christopher as the elderly detective couple lend first rate comic support. Carrie Tavris provides plenty of laughs in a number of very funny cameos. Tavris then crowns her performance playing Janie, the marriage counselor and clown. The humor in this role lies in the efficacy of her seemingly incomprehensible techniques, which include playing The Newlywed Game. Like all the other unlikely, seeming outré twists or turns of plot that Lindsay-Abaire keeps coming at us, everything somehow dovetails in time.

David Lindsay-Abaire would have us appreciate our existence in this world ("the sun came up and you're breathing. What more do you want?"). I'll buy that. However, I also appreciate the gift of unbridled and guilt-free laughter that Wonder of the World supplies in abundance.

Wonder of the World continues performances (Fri. & Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m. / Extra Perf. Sat 11/10 – 2 p.m.) through November 11,2008 at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at the Baird Center, 5 Mead Street, South Orange, NJ 07079. Box Office: 973-378-7754; online: www.DreamcatcherRep.org.

Wonder of the World by David Lindsay-Abaire; directed by Dave Maulbeck

Cast
Cass Harris…………………….Laura Ekstrand
Kip Harris…………Harry Patrick Christian
Lois Coleman……………………..Norma Farley
Karla…………………Angela Della Ventura
Glen………………………...David Christopher
Captain Mike………………………..David Miceli
Barbara, Pilot, Waitresses, Janie…..Carrie Tavris


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- Bob Rendell



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