Friday, April 25, 2008

Wonder of the World

It's the final week to see Wonder of the World, a quirky comedy going on at Stage Coach Theatre. Here's the 5W:

What: Wonder of the World, a play about a woman named Cass who leaves her marriage and travels to Niagara Falls to rediscover herself, armed with a list of Things to Do Before I Die. You know, like skydive. And wear an enormous wig. The play explores her adventures with a sarcastic, suicidal alcoholic; a widowed (widowered?) tour-boat captain; two economy-rate private detectives (you get what you pay for); and Cass's husband, who is hiding a terrible! --horrible! -- did I mention terrible? -- secret.
When: May 1-3; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Where: Stage Coach Theatre in the Hillcrest Shopping Center at Orchard and Overland, Boise.
Who: Author David Lindsay-Abaire, director Jeremy Chase, and actors Nova Calverley, Steve Martin, Aimee Nell Smith, Mike Cronen, Jo-Ann Jones, Larry Chase and Heidi Reeder Stipp.
Why: The official tagline is, "Take a wild ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel of laughs." The unofficial tagline is, "You'll never look at Barbies the same way again." By Jeremy Chase's count, the play includes 12 characters, seven actors, six game-show contestants, three theme restaurants, two helicopters and one big barrel.

A word of caution: The play deserves its R rating.

I went to see this show last Saturday, after spending two full days packing and moving all my belongings. By 8:10, I was exhausted, ready to fall asleep in my chair. By 8:20 (the show started late), I was glancing at the door of the theater, wondering if I could grab a cup of coffee and sneak it back in (Kevin Labrum usually makes Raven's Brew coffee for the audience at Stage Coach). Caffeine, I am happy to say, was not needed. The laughter kept me awake, and the actors kept me engaged.
The play opens with Cass, played by Nova Calverly, throwing clothes into a suitcase. Her husband Kip, played by Steve Martin, walks in to find her packing to leave him. Cass had meant to avoid this confrontation, and an awkward scene ensues in which Kip tries to dissuade her from leaving and Cass initially tries to spare his feelings, but then calls him a monster and blames him for the breakup of their marriage. A scene like this in any other play might be poignant, maybe even a little painful. Here, it's hilarious. Calverly walks a fine line, remaining likeable even though she's the one breaking up a marriage of several years, and Martin is amusingly awkward, helplessly holding a trout aspic as he begs his wife to stay.
Cass hits the road, determined to do all the things she feels her marriage has held her back from. She wants to sleep with the bellhop. She wants to jump on the bed. She wants to have a lesbian tryst, or, failing that, a pillow fight with her new best friend. Calverly plays Cass with a combination of effervescence and force of will. It's this combination that allows her to press the alcoholic Lois (Aimee Nell Smith) into service as her sidekick, even though all Lois wants to do is sleep, drink, and kill herself by going over Niagara Falls. And Cass's infectious enthusiasm for life quickly charm Captain Mike (Mike Cronen), a tour boat captain who had all but given up on love when his wife died.
But Kip tries to track Cass down and bring her back so things can be just like they always were, and he's enlisted the help of two private detectives and a therapist.
Steve Martin has described his role to me as "pathetic," and he succeeds at it. It's not the "pathos" kind of pathetic, either -- not the kind that would allow you to sympathize with him much, just a mixture of sad and desperate and a little annoying and a lot clingy. It works, allowing the audience to laugh freely instead of get mired in pity.
Aimee Nell Smith plays drunk for most of the performance and manages to do so with realism and with charm. She has a large share of the witty lines and delivers them well, but she also does excellent work in portraying Lois's vulnerability.
Jo-Ann Jones plays Karla, one of the private detectives. Her partner Glen describes her as his "Josef Mengele," but it's hard to picture her as actually violent -- mostly she's just annoyed with Glen's bumbling antics. But she does achieve a firmness that borders on angry and volatile.
Larry Chase is delightful as the ADD-afflicted Glen, upbeat and easily distracted by big bags of Cheetos.
Mike Cronen is charming as Captain Mike, willing to give love one more try. It's fun to watch him go back and forth between two accents as he delivers his tour boat spiel.
Heidi Reeder Stipp adroitly plays six different characters. In one scene, she plays three characters in quick succession, and when she's done with the last character, she goes through all three again. The quick changes in costume, dialect and character are pulled off beautifully.
Except for the hotel room scenes, the set is minimal and is played in front of a curtain. Stage hands (aka The Wonder Crew) move set pieces on and off, and sometimes they interact with the main characters between scenes -- a nice touch that distracts from the scene changes going on in plain view. In some scenes, however, the stage hands actually play set pieces. This works better in some scenes than others. It's perfect in the helicopter scene, in which crew members stand on stage twirling the wooden frames of umbrella-style patio shades -- what better way to depict the spinning blades of the helicopter? But in another scene, one of the crew members -- Leah Cronen, Mike's daughter -- stands in for the wheel of the tour boat. Cass tugs on her hair to ring a bell or blow a horn or something. My willing suspension of disbelief was already being stretched quite a bit by seeing Leah used as a prop, and the hair tug was an additional jolt. I was very aware at that moment that I was watching a play, since I had to remind myself that that tug probably didn't hurt Leah at all. It was a distracting moment -- fortunately, one of only a few.
Overall, Wonder of the World was wonderfully funny and twisted (you'll know what I mean when they get to the Barbies). For full disclosure, I know most of the people involved in the production. But it's such a good show my boyfriend and I plan to come back again this weekend and bring some of his friends who, as far as I know, have never been to a play in Boise. If you like dark, slightly sick humor, this is a good introduction to local theater.

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