Dayton Theatre Guild shows the light, dark ‘Wonder of the World’

By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: (l-r) Richard Young, Marcella Balin, Ian Manuel, Kari Carter, Scott Madden, Debra Strauss, and Kerry Simpson perform ‘Wonder of the World’ through May 28 at Dayton Theatre Guild

From guffaws to giggles, the audience was audibly enjoying the wacky humor of David Lindsay-Abaire’s unconventional work, “Wonder of the World.” The cast was clearly getting the challenge of creating reality from the edge of absurdity. Beneath the fast-paced dialogue, directed by Saul Caplan, lie thought-provoking life issues.

Cass, played by Kari Carter, and Kip, by Ian Manual, have been married for seven years, and he’s not turning out the way she expected. So she’s packing to leave with her “bucket list,” all the things she wants to experience, in hand. And, more troubling, she’s discovered he has a hidden, bizarre sexual fetish—not abusive to anyone else, but definitely very odd.

She heads toward Niagara Falls, encountering Lois, a hopeless alcoholic, brought to life by Kerry Simpson, and Cap’n Mike, Scott Madden, of the vessel Maid of the Mist at the Falls. Lois, determined to commit suicide by going over in a barrel, becomes Cass’s sidekick. Kip sends an improbable pair of detectives, Karla and Glen, Marcella Balin and Richard Young respectively, to find his wife. The ensuing situations are unlikely but under Caplan’s sure directorial hand, hit their mark.

Along the way, they encounter several other characters: a wig-wearing southerner, three waitresses, a helicopter pilot, and clown-suited therapist, all played by Debra Strauss. What fun.

Then there are the “invisibles.” Conventionally, we see dark clad scene-changers scurrying around in low light. Here, as in the Japanese kabuki tradition called “kuroko,” the stagehands are completely covered, including their faces and heads. They move platforms, change scenes, work hard, and are sometimes part of the scene. They are Doug Lowe, Bekki Madden, Carly Risenhoover-Peterson, and Tori T. Tuccillo.

You can almost see big grins on their covered faces as they become a whimsical part of the mist at the bottom of the Falls. There are several, delightful, small details: a tiny blade-topped beanie on the covered headgear in the helicopter scene, a kneeling figure holding the tourist boat’s wheel, for quick flexibility. First time in my memory that stagehands got a curtain call. They always should.

Carter pulls out a variety of emotions to support her character’s basic inability to maintain a commitment to marriage. She thought he was an X, but he turns out to be a Z, meaning not very exciting or adventuresome. For her, there will always be disappointment in others.

The men are a bit clueless. Husband Kip, Ian Manuel, is totally surprised to find Cass leaving. He spends a lot of time crying and makes it funny. Then, becoming proactive, he sets out to find her and woo her back.

Cap’n Mike makes goo-goo eyes in various situations at Cass’s flirtations, most convincingly.

Lois’s alcoholism and suicidal thinking are treated with Lindsay-Abaire’s particular touch, seemingly light but with accuracy, played by Simpson with just the right attitude of depression, annoyance, and cynicism.

The playwright has plotted clever twists, especially connecting two disparate characters with a huge jar of peanut butter.

The ersatz private investigators, Karla and Glen, also masquerade as bell hops, an older married couple in need of cash. He has hyper-attention deficit disorder and does a delightful job of it.

Of course it’s the support of the tech staff that makes Caplan’s fast pace work. Jason Vogel’s lighting design ranges from hotel room to three restaurants at once to the Niagara River boat. It’s a very well thought out and effective plan. However, I found the blue light in the house prior to the first curtain and at intermission disturbing. Is it meant to convey whimsy or create a mood?

When sound is well designed, it is so natural that you don’t notice. Ryan Shannon has done a fine job with this, his first design effort, setting just the right atmosphere.

Linda Sellers handles the costume design. It is almost like having three different cultures; the major six characters’ clothing reflect their personalities. Karla is just this side of bizarre, appropriately; the invisibles are just that, almost. They must be totally covered but require flexibility. The multi-personalities of Strauss, especially the three waitresses who appear in close succession, have to be just over the top and easy to get on and off.

Richard Lee Waldeck’s set design also has several parts. The raised stage provides a bedroom and, later, a hotel room. The basic thrust floor has several scenes. The invisibles manipulate slightly raised platforms that become a boat, a helicopter, and other devices.

Scott Madden and Alex Ference are the master carpenters; Michael Schumacher and Waldeck, set painters; and 20 people, including most of the cast and crew, helped construct the set.

Props also must be flawlessly picked so that they are seldom noted. N. Lynn Brown handles the job. She has included a remarkably large turkey leg, Henry VIII-style, to be waved around.

Carrie Thompson is stage manager, Melanie Brenner is the producer, and Shannon Fent, assistant director, all big jobs.

“Wonder of the World” debuted in Washington D.C. in 2000 and in New York in 2001, one of Lindsay-Abaire’s early plays. He’s won praise and prizes, including the Pulitzer for “Rabbit Hole.”

When the director makes his pre-curtain welcoming speech, with a bemused expression, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, only his upper body showing from the barrel he’s standing in, you know it’s going to be a wild evening.

‘Wonder of the World’ takes the stage Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. through May 28 at Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave. in Dayton. Tickets are $19, $17 for seniors, and $12 for students. For tickets and more information, please call 937.278.5993 or visit DaytonTheatreGuild.org.

 

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Jacqui Theobald
Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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