Encore Michigan

‘Wonder of The World’ is David Lindsay-Abaire’s problem play

Review January 17, 2019 Tanya Gazdik

TRENTON, Mich. — David Lindsay-Abaire’s Wonder of the World tries hard to be funny, too hard.

I spent much of this play, thoughtfully produced by Open Book Theatre here, feeling like I was surrounded by a laugh track. Sure, the show had some funny moments, and I did laugh here and there. But it was surely not as “hysterical” as some of the audience found it to be. I love a good comedy. In fact, I tend to prefer a comedy when it comes to theater. But I feel like laughter should be earned. Forced laughter is, to be blunt, grinding after awhile.

Putting the laugh track aspect aside, which obviously the actors can’t control, the play has issues, and rarely gets beyond “fair” and “meh.” And at two hours and 10 minutes plus an intermission, it definitely drags at several points. It’s worth noting that the playwright did a substantial rewrite after it premiered almost 20 years ago. But, well, maybe he should have kept at it?

The play is about Cass (Krista Schafer Ewbank) who leaves her husband because she discovers he indulges in sexual deviance. I won’t ruin it for those who plan to attend, but let’s just say it’s definitely outside the norm. One of the issues with the play is despite having been “wronged,” the character doesn’t seem particularly likable, or even sympathetic. As the play goes on, it becomes increasingly apparent that she’s a bit of narcissist and has some psychological issues of her own.

She flees to Niagara Falls with a rather contrived to-do list of things she wants to accomplish. She quickly accomplishes one of the items, “get a sidekick” when she befriends Lois, an initially unwilling stranger who she meets on the bus. Played by Linda Rabin Hammell, the quirky and quick-witted character is one of the play’s saving graces. Hammell’s quiet and witty pronouncements land well and help pick up the narrative.

Another saving grace is the performance of Richard Payton, who plays Cass’s scorned and hapless husband, Kip Harris. He is well suited for the role. Mandy Logsdon also excels in a multitude of roles — Barbara, Helicopter Pilot, several Waitresses and Janie. The cast–which also includes Connie Cowper, Dan Morrison and Patrick Loo–is directed by Sarah Hawkins, and is made up of some of the best actors in Michigan (numerous Wilde Award nominations and wins are represented). But any good play starts with good writing.

The set, which seems to change constantly from scene to scene, is barebones but for some individual set pieces–a bed in Cass’ hotel room, a barrel that Lois intends to go over the falls in, and some strange large fake rocks that morph into whatever structure they need to be, from a bus seat to hotel furniture.

Ultimately, the actors can’t be blamed for a story and script that simply is not very compelling. Open Book likes Lindsay-Abaire’s plays as this is the second one, at least, it has done, the other being Good People. The playwright, also author of Fuddy Meers and Rabbit Hole (Pulitzer winner) was criticized by some reviewers ( I read up on some because of how sub-par I think the writing is) for drawing too heavily on Meers for this play, but not doing as good a job on it. I would tend to agree.

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