By D. A. Blackburn
In his program notes, director Kevin Young calls his production of “Wonder of the World” the “red-headed step-child” of Breathe Art’s 2006/2007 season. While his intent seems to be to declare the work a lovable misfit, the metaphor proves apt, as the work comes to the stage like a neglected and unloved child.
The product of Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, “Wonder of the World” is the story of Cass Harris, a disillusioned young wife who leaves her husband and strikes out for Niagara Falls to rediscover herself. The two-act comedy unfolds, as her journey does, a reckless romp full of eccentric and eclectic characters, each just a little too off-kilter to be believable.
In its premiere production at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2001, “Wonder of the World” received mixed reviews. Critics praised its inventive staging, but drew harsh comparisons to Lindsay-Abaire’s earlier – and strikingly similar – work, “Fuddy Meers.” Even the star power of Sarah Jessica Parker and the irreverent and hysterically funny Amy Sedaris were not strong enough to bring the work accolades or a warm welcome into the American repertory.
Breathe Art’s production does little to change the play’s perception. In fact, the work falls flat. Simply put: “Wonder of the World” is just not that funny. The laughs it draws are derived more from shock than anything else, and sadly, the work is not really shocking. It is, however, predictable. And full of some of the most contrived dialogue ever voiced on a stage.
The play opens to find Cass packing a bag. She’s just learned that her husband Kip is a sexual deviant, and is startled when he arrives home on his lunch break, interrupting her escape. Struggling for laughs, the scene unfolds without any real emotion, and she departs Park Slope, Brooklyn, with little more than a suitcase and list of things she’s always wanted to do – learn Swedish, have a lesbian encounter, try skydiving, etc.
Once on the road, Cass encounters Lois, a recently separated alcoholic, determined to throw herself over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Though Lois shows no interest in Cass’ attempts at conversation, she eventually becomes a side-kick in the adventure about to unfold. Arriving in Niagara, the pair gets a hotel and heads out sight-seeing. Over the course of two hours, the pair encounter a variety of strange characters, all seemingly trying – and failing – to navigate the rough waters of love. In the end, love does not conquer all. It is merely undone.
The leads, Cass (Michelle Hooks-Stackpoole), Kip (Adam Burkett), Lois (Megan Pennefather) and Captain Mike (Chris Roady) are played with zeal, but lack precision. They are too over-the-top to be believable, and in this production, play out with less than inspired acting.
In smaller supporting roles, like those of Karla (Linda Rabin Hammell), Glen (Peter Coady) and the McShane Sextuplets (Christa Coulter), “Wonder of the World” gains some footing. They are well acted, and inject much-needed humor into the work, but cannot salvage it.
Breathe Art’s minimalist staging – consisting mostly of three plain movable walls and a few props – and particularly poor sound design only serve to compound the problems of a weak script.
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
‘Wonder of the World’
Breathe Art Theatre Project at the Furniture Factory, 4126 Third St., Detroit. Fri.-Sun., through May 12. Tickets: $12-$20. For information: 313-831-1939 or http://www.breathearttheatre.com.