Note: There may be spoilers here. There may not – I haven’t written it yet. I’m usually still thinking everything through and processing as I’m writing, and quite a bit of what’s banging around in my head ends up in the final draft, but not all. But for those of you who are worried about spoilers, consider yourself warned. Also, the quotes included below should be pretty accurate, but I was writing them in a dark theatre. And there was, you know, a live performance going on at the time. I did not confirm them against the script, and any errors are my own, though I hope I captured at least the thought behind the lines. Enjoy!)
(I loved the Firehall Theatre production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Kimberly Akimbo, the story of a young girl suffering from a rare disorder that causes her to age at an accelerated rate. Most people who have the disease don’t live past the age of 16; the audience meets Kimberly just before her sixteenth birthday. The show is dark and funny, sweet in places, and just the sort of oddball piece that can surprise you at every turn. It also provides an amazing role for mature actresses. The show is an affecting story about life and the possibility of death, of dealing with uncertainties. How much time do we have? How do we live with the hand we’ve been dealt? How do you believe in fate when faced with such terrible limitations? Mare Thompson was pitch perfect as the title character, and the show was wonderfully crafted by the director, Chris Berg. Berg is once again mounting a production of a Lindsay-Abaire play, this time at the Empire Arts Center, and Mare Thompson is along for the ride in a strange and funny supporting role for which her talents are perfectly suited.
Cass: I thought I knew where I was this whole time.
Wonder of the World is a show about possibilities, about what can be but also about what we may have to give up to get there. Cass Harris, played with a wacky, sputtering charm by Abby Schoenborn (we profiled the actress as she was preparing for the show’s opening – if you missed that post, read it HERE), has just left her husband Kip (Cole Nelson) and is off on a bus to Niagara Falls after watching the Marilyn Monroe classic Niagara. She has a list of things she wants to accomplish in her life (a “bucket list” of sorts, though this show predates that film by seven years), a list that she “put away” seven years ago when Kip proposed to her and she got married. She thought she was happy, until she discovered her husband’s secret (even though I love a good spoiler, I’m not saying a word – the revelation is one of the funniest sequences in the play and occasions several more great moments); that fact that her husband even has a secret makes her doubt her whole marriage and everything she’s thought or felt for the last seven years, and so off she goes to discover Niagara Falls and what destiny has in store for her.
Cass: I think I might have made a mistake.
Cass: Remember that time, when you proposed and I said yes?
On the way, she meets Lois Coleman (Christa Weiler). As Cass is heading to the Falls to start her life over, Lois is going there to end hers. She’s recently been abandoned by her husband Ted who left a note saying that, “I was a bad person because I drank too much and crashed cars.” And drink too much Lois certainly does for the entire run of the show. When she’s not knocking back a drink, she’s telling Cass and anyone else who comes within earshot about how she’s come to Niagara Falls to send herself over in a pickle barrel. She’s hoping that when they pull her body out of the water, her husband will be overcome with torturous regret, made all the worse by his love for pickles. She’s a perfect sidekick for the addled runaway Cass, as bitter and cynical as Cass is sickeningly optimistic. Weiler’s Lois is delightfully sloppy, often accompanied on stage by her large barrel.
Lois: I love stories where women slap men. They make me laugh.
Cass’s pursuit of her life list is complicated by meeting Captain Mike (Gabe Figueroa), the captain of the Misty Maiden, the boat that gives tourists rides along the bottom of the Falls. He’s rather stoic and more than a little awkward, a widower whose wife met her demise in a freak accident involving an industrial size peanut butter jar. Cass is instantly attracted to him, and having a “torrid fling” is on her list, but she starts to wonder if the Captain may have been her soul mate, if only she had gone on a fateful family trip to the Falls years before instead of staying home to plan her wedding.
Cass: How do you know what to do? How do you know what socks to put on when the color alone can change your destiny?
Mare Thompson and Jerry Wehry join the ensemble as Karla and Glen, two elderly “newlyweds” with a twisted rapport and more than a few secrets. They keep showing up on Cass and Lois’ adventures, and may just have a plan for one of the women. The action picks up when Kip finally reappears to try to win back Cass; Nelson’s histrionics as Kip are just right: any less and they’d be ho hum, any more and they would grate on the audience like nails on a chalkboard. Instead, they fall into a perfectly campy portrayal of a seemingly normal suburban guy who’s life and marriage are falling apart around him. The cast is rounded out Jaclyn Beito who does a great job of adding dashes of personality to several scenes with one-off characters who are all unique and memorable, including waitresses at several ridiculous theme restaurants and a marriage counselor with some rather unorthodox methods.
Lois: You’ve got them lined up, don’t you? The men. You’re like a soup kitchen!
The show presents a balanced and funny collection of oddball characters who all shine in their own way. Cass’s big questions about destiny, about whether or not things are meant to happen a certain way, are at the crux of the plot and because of this the show can feel a little contrived. Almost every detail in the show is revisited at some point, given some new spin or interpretation. The second act, where most of these connections or twists are revealed, is a bit more labored than the frenetic pace of the first act with Cass’s exodus from former wedded bliss, but overall the show maintains a quirky harmony with lots of laugh out loud moments and memorable exchanges. If you love the oddball and the underdog, you’ll definitely cheer for Cass and Lois on their journey, though they end the play without any more answers than they started with. Rather than a clear path to take, they end the show at a place of possibilities, realizing that this is exactly where they started: that every day is holds any number of possibilities if only we decide to take them.
Cass: That’s what I need: a sign. Not that “Holy God” mumbo-jumbo. Something to believe in.
The show has a lot to say about relationships. What do we have to give up to be in a relationship with someone else? Is it always about what one person wants or desires, and if it is, what happens to that person when the other person decides they want to rediscover their own wants and desires? There is a great moment between Kip and Cass when their impromptu marriage counseling session turns into The Newlywed Game and the question is about what fairytale character Cass thinks Kip would use to describe her. Kip chooses Rapunzel; he loves her beautiful hair. Cass is shocked and points out to Kip that Rapunzel is locked away from the world in the witch’s tower, something that never would have occurred to Kip. He was merely thinking of how much he loved her hair, of how much he loved possessing her when she was his wife, locked not in a tower but in their quiet neighborhood. Cass chose Jack, of Jack and the Beanstalk, because “He steals eggs. And does things.” Cass has spent the last seven years not doing things. She doesn’t pick Jack because she thinks Kip would really describe her that way; she picks Jack because it’s who she wants to be, how she wishes Kip could see her.
Cass: My life should have meaning.
Technically, the show is well put together. The costumes make sense (though why Cass would ever put those horrible butch overalls on her list, I’ll never understand!), and the set is broken up into useful pieces that transform easily from scene to scene and manage to fill the stage without overtaking it. Wonder of the World is a show with more quirkiness and humor than genuine heart, but you’ll still find yourself applauding Cass’s naïve determination to start living and find her destiny. The show runs January 16-18 and 23-25 at the Empire Arts Center. Showtime is 7:30 pm and tickets are $15 online or at the door. Be sure to check out this funny, absurd little gem while you can; it will get you thinking about love, relationships, destiny, and the consequences of bad penmanship.
(Post-script: The poster below is NOT for the Empire Theatre Company’s production, but I found it when I was searching images and I thought it was brilliant and beautiful, so I included it. Be sure to check the note above for the details about this production!)
Tags: Abby Schoenborn, Captain Mike, Cass Harris, Chris Berg, Christa Weiler, Cole Nelson, comedy, community theater, community theatre, David Lindsay-Abaire, destiny, divorce, Empire Arts Center, Empire Theater, Empire Theater Company, Empire Theatre, Empire Theatre Company, Gabe Figueroa, Jaclyn Beito, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Jerry Wehry, Kimberly Akimbo, Kip Harris, Lois Coleman, Mare Thompson, Marilyn Monroe, marriage, Miss Jaye, Niagara, Niagara Falls, Rabbit Hole, relationships, The Misty Maiden, Wonder of the World