A frustrated and sheltered wife’s decision to turn over a new leaf reaches exciting, shocking, hilarious, and absurd proportions in David Lindsay-Abaire’s whimsical 2001 off-Broadway comedy “Wonder of the World,” excellently produced in its local premiere by the Dayton Theatre Guild.
The absolutely splendid Kari Carter, delivering a knockout Guild debut, impressively drives this kooky if uneven vehicle as the disillusioned yet determined Cass Harris, a free-spirited and conflicted soul longing for adventure and renewed purpose after leaving her husband Kip. Bound for Niagara Falls with a notepad detailing over 280 goals from learning Swedish to wearing velvet, Cass ventures forth to correct mistakes in her life with the hope of finding opportunities to explore possibilities in an attempt to live to the fullest. As is typical in the bizarre and dysfunctional Lindsay-Abaire universe, Cass comes in contact with an assortment of funny eccentrics such as a suicidal alcoholic, goofy private investigators and a clown therapist. His roadmap ultimately grows disjointed (an overlong group therapy scene within the framework of “The Newlywed Game” deflates Act 2), but he appealingly injects great promise into Cass’ journey of self-discovery nonetheless by the end of the play. In fact, the action wonderfully culminates on the rushing waters of Niagara Falls imaginatively staged by director Saul Caplan with black-clad stagehands (the Invisibles) in full view of the audience assisting the action (per the Kabuki tradition of Kuroko).
Vividly executing her passionate portrayal with bubbly ease, Carter thrillingly conjures the sitcom-esque vivacity and chatty effervescence of such contemporary comediennes as Sarah Jessica Parker (the original Cass), Lena Dunham, Julie Bowen, and Tracee Ellis Ross. She notably masters the tricky nuances and rhythms enabling the script to remain snappy, witty and conversational while ensuring Cass’ emotional vulnerabilities are evident. As clingy Kip, coping as best as possible with his Barbie fetish, Ian Manuel, in a welcomed return to the Guild, lends very endearing support. He firmly balances Kip’s devotion for Cass with darker undertones giving credence to her choice to seek a new love. Kerry Simpson, in a refreshing principal capacity, is equally winning as Cass’ troubled sidekick Lois Coleman, the aforementioned alcoholic on a mission to become the next Annie Edson Taylor complete with barrel in tow. Marcella Balin and Richard Young are delightfully unified as oddballs Karla and Glen, hired by Kip to track down Cass. Scott Madden is enjoyably pleasant as Maid of the Mist’s Captain Mike, Cass’ desired flame. Debra Strauss is a versatile hoot in multiple zany roles including a helicopter pilot, three waitresses, and a clown. Doug Lowe, Bekki Madden, Carly Risenhoover-Peterson, and Tori T. Tuccillo complete the cast as the dutiful Invisibles, effectively handling the varied moving parts of Richard Lee Waldeck’s efficient set pieces. Linda Sellers’ costumes, Jason Vogel’s lighting design, Ryan Shannon’s sound design, and N. Lynn Brown’s properties and set dressing nicely complement the action.
Lindsay-Abaire’s plays include his splendid and heartbreaking 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Rabbit Hole” in addition to “Fuddy Meers,” “Good People,” “Kimberly Akimbo,” and “Ripcord.” He also wrote the book and lyrics for “Shrek: The Musical” and the book for the musical “High Fidelity.” “Wonder of the World” isn’t a representation of his best work, but Carter’s wondrously wonderful performance specifically resonates as an affirming reminder to always choose to go on when life gets messy.
“Wonder of the World” concludes Sunday, May 28 at 3 p.m. at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Act 1 and Act 2 are performed in 60 minutes. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $13 for students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit daytontheatreguild.org. Patrons are advised the production contains adult language, fog effects and the sound of gunshots.