The road to WTF
Wonder of the World
Sacramento, CA 95815
Wonder of the World is a road-trip play. Mode of transportation: bus. Main passenger: Cass Harris, leaving her husband, bound for adventure, armed with a things-to-accomplish checklist. Sidekick and fellow passenger: Lois Coleman, an alcoholic determined to commit suicide in a barrel. Destination: Niagara Falls, where Cass wants her life to begin and Lois wants her life to end.
And this is a comedy! Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s wacky Wonder of the World is a quirky comedic cousin of his dark, engaging and funny Fuddy Meers, previously staged both at Sacramento’s B Street Theatre and Big Idea Theatre. Sacramento likes Lindsay-Abaire—B Street also staged his Kimberly Akimbo, and last year produced his really dark, Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, recently made into a movie that earned Nicole Kidman an Academy Award nomination. River Stage gave us another of his surreal stories with Snow Angel.
Now Big Idea is staging his Wonder of the World, which employs some of Lindsay-Abaire’s familiar themes: fate, destiny, troubled marriages/families, people searching for significance, a skewed sense of reality and a heightened sense of the absurd.
Big Idea has the right idea about presenting another Lindsay-Abaire, but chose the wrong play. The main problem is that Wonder of the World isn’t one of Lindsay-Abaire’s strongest efforts. Though it does have very humorous moments and clever dialogue, too often it relies on contrived comedy bits, seasoned with forced funny lines and a totally WTF ending.
However, Big Idea has both a strong cast and director who take a weak play and make the most out of the funny bits that work.
Though the bus trip is only in the first third of the play—with most action happening once Cass (Shannon Mahoney) and Lois (Beth Edwards) get to Niagara Falls—they’re still on a journey for the meaning of life, as are many of the characters they stumble across along the way. There’s Captain Mike (Justin D. Muñoz), aimlessly steering through life with his wife’s death weighing him down; Glen (Blair Leatherwood) and Karla (Susan Madden), a mysterious detective duo; Kip Harris (Jouni Kirjola), Cass’ husband with a secret that’s hard to swallow; and sundry characters portrayed by a very funny Laura Kaya including a helicopter pilot, a trio of theme-restaurant waitresses and a clown that makes counseling look like fun.
Director Jessica Berkey does a great job of juggling all the bits and pieces, pulling funny performances from the cast who endear themselves to the audience even when the story gets tiresome. The first half in particular is a hoot with an audacious cliffhanger that makes you wonder what’s going to happen in the second half.
The set design by Brian Harrower is both colorful and very clever, with a look of a psychedelic Nickelodeon kids’ show—stacking blocks of pastel-colored boxes that store various props. Also nods to costume designer Kat Wolinski and stage manager Benjamin T. Ismail, who has the set changes down to a science.
Though Wonder of the World has limitations, it still gives fodder for some good chuckles along the way and interesting after-show discussions.