Titanic Delivers Laughs with Oddball Comedy ‘Wonder of the World’ (4 Stars)

‘Wonder of the World’ – Written by David Lindsay-Abaire; Directed by Adam Zahler; Scenic Design by Joshua Kigner; Presented by the Titanic Theater Company at the Black Box Theater at The Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown through August 9th.

Looking for some lighter theater entertainment but not up for another summer musical revival? The Titanic Theater Company may have just the thing for you at the Arsenal Center for the Arts with their very funny production of “Wonder of the World”, now playing through August 9th. This early work by David Lindsay-Abaire (who later won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for “Rabbit Hole”) is a something of a throwback to the post-depression era screwball comedies, but director Adam Zahler has given the play a kind of 50’s/early 60’s movie feel (including using incidental music from that time period during scene changes). Other than the use of cell phones and a few other conveniences, this piece could have easily been a Howard Hawks comedy.

The play opens with Cass, a ninth grade school teacher in her late twenties, hastily packing a suitcase while watching the movie ‘Niagra’ starring Marilyn Monroe. Her husband of seven years, Kip, comes home from work unexpectedly and surprises her with an aspic made from trout for lunch (one of the plays many seemingly ludicrous details), but it is he who is surprised as she informs him that she is leaving him, apparently because he confessed to a fairly bizarre (but hilarious) sexual fetish. But the reasons for leaving run deeper than that (although she does refer to him as an “odious monster”) as she explains using a geometric equation. When Kip proposed, she thought he equaled X and that X would make her happy. But now that she knows that Kip equals Z, her math was apparently wrong, and she realizes that she made a terrible mistake in marrying him and logically, must leave. Logically for her anyway, as her motivations for almost anything she does seem firmly rooted in a reality that evades the rest of the world.

So Cass sets off to Niagra Falls to find herself, her destiny, and what she hopes will be her soul mate, and to also complete a kind of bucket list of 200 items that she has been compiling that range from mundane (“talk to a stranger”) to just plain weird (“make friends with a clown”). It’s one of many comic devices that work well in this show. The “stranger” she talks to turns out to be her accomplice on this journey of self-discovery. Lois (convincingly portrayed by Alisha Jansky) is a raging alcoholic whose husband has just left her because he is unable to tolerate her drinking any longer, and she has decided to commit suicide by going over Niagra Falls in a barrel to get back at him. The pair land in the honeymoon capital and hole up in a hotel room to fulfill their respective destinies. While there they meet a collection of looneys, including a (married) couple of serial entrepreneurs whose latest scam is as bumbling private detectives, the captain of the tourist boat, and a chillden’s party clown who moonlights as a couples counselor.

The writing is exceedingly clever and witty, and seemingly insignificant details that appear to be thrown in as absurd jokes turn out to be connected to the surprisingly intricate (but silly) plot. On the night that I attended, the audience was slow to catch on to the comic style of the playwright initially, but were soon caught up in the absurdity, particularly in the play’s second half.

The cast is fairly strong, with Meredith Saran playing Cass as a kind of ADD poster child, flighty and almost bizarre, but sweetly appealing nonetheless. As the drunken Lois, Jansky steals a number of scenes with her boozy logic, and Johnnie McQuarley does a nice job as the needy Kip. Real life husband and wife Damon and Laurie Singletary play the private detectives, with Damon delivering some of the best lines in the show as the befuddled detective. Alissa Cordeiro is a riot in multiple roles including the clown/therapist and series of waitresses at increasingly ridiculous themed restaurants. And Matthew Zahnzinger plays the stoic captain who falls for Cass with a kind of rigid charm.
This is a very entertaining take, especially for lovers of absurd comedy. For more info go to: http://titanictheatre.com/