Those who have seen Richard Dresser’s darkly humorous plays before know what to expect:
” Obsessive characters who talk a mile a minute.
” Heartless acts that are so over the top they become funny.
” People who get so snarled up in their own paranoia and selfishness that they are both laughable and yet somehow believable, in that they bear a recognizable (if hugely overstated and distorted) resemblance to someone we know … maybe even ourselves.
Dresser has done this sort of thing before (the B Street has previously staged three of his plays). But this new play, Wonderful World, is possibly the best to date. (It’s also a vast improvement over some of the simple-minded stuff that the B Street staged earlier this year.) In this script (a work-in-progress which the playwright is still fine-tuning), Dresser ventures into two great thickets of comic possibilities—getting along with your relatives and in-laws, and the balance between trust and covert manipulation in a marriage. Dresser sets up an ascending sequence of increasingly bizarre and wildly hilarious scenes in which his characters—two brothers, their respective spouses, and their mom—try by hook or by crook to convince the others to see things their way.
The show marks a welcome return by actress Elisabeth Nunziato, who’s been away from local stages for much too long. In this play, Nunziato portrays a first-class “queen bitch,” at once ice cold and red hot, supremely confident and twitchy with inward doubt. She luxuriates in wealth, flies off the handle at perceived slights and subjects her prospective sister-in-law to a job interview in order to determine “what sort of things you’ll offer me as a friend.”
Dana (Friedman) Brooke also does well as a woman about to marry into this crazy crew. After several very funny scenes in which her character loses her composure, she rises to become the sanest person in the play—a neat transformation.
Jeffrey Dean and Tom Jermain play the two brothers, and the stylish way they toss the ball of sibling rivalry back and forth drives many of the scenes. Stephanie McVay rounds out the well-chosen cast as the mother. Buck Busfield, back at the helm as director, times the scenes nicely, keeping the comedy nimble and adroit.
B Street shows almost always reference alcohol; in this play, drinks are served constantly. There’s also a fair amount of furniture—whisked in and out smoothly during the numerous scene changes. The choice of music between scenes is also good.
Most everything about this show clicks; it’s one of the better all-around efforts that the B Street Theatre has mounted in the last few years.