Niagara Falls is a great, looming presence in David Lindsay-Abaire's Wonder of the World, and the Theater Project delivers it, in the powerful white-noise rush of its crash (Jim Hall's sound design), in ethereal shifting mists and haunting glacial-blue light (JP Gagnon's lighting), and in a rise of four tiered platforms hung with translucent, back-lit fringe (set by Christopher Price, who also directs). These sensual, vertiginous heights and drops of the Falls parallel the joys and the despairs of a handful of wackos brought together there by — God? Fate? Sheer dumb coincidence? It all makes for comedic reckonings both edgily modern and quite classical. In Price's production for the Theater Project, he directs the longtime core actors of the company's ensemble, and their rapport brings an effervescent intimacy to these characters, and to shenanigans both profane and sublime.
OVER THE EDGE Wendy Poole as Lois, with her barrel for navigating the falls.
Lindsay-Abaire's eccentrics congregate at the Falls domino-style in the wake of an odious secret discovered by Cass (Reba Short) in the sweater drawer of her square-ish husband Kip (Burke Brimmer). I won't spoil Kip's deviance (which is imaginatively disturbing), so suffice it to say that it plays catalyst for Cass, who's never been satisfied with the marriage anyway, and who up and buses from Park Slope up to Niagara to start checking a series of whimsical acts ("Wear velvet;" "Become friends with a clown") off her list.
Along the way, Cass collects and babysits the suicidal alcoholic Lois (Wendy Poole), who has brought her own barrel with which to do the deed; meets Captain Mike (Craig Ela), a tour-boat-driving widower who may or may not be her soul mate; the loony married "dabblers" in private investigation Karla and Glenn (Michele Livermore Wigton and Brent Askari, a comic pairing made in heaven) hired by Kip; and a series of other kooks, including an acrophobic helicopter pilot, a slew of theme-restaurant waitresses, and a marriage counselor who moonlights as a clown (with the fabulous Heather Weafer playing all of them). These folks weather and ponder serendipity and shit luck alike.
I'm not sure when I last saw a show so flawlessly cast, or a corps so deliciously simpatico, so much more than the sum of its parts (particularly in a hilarious group "couples" therapy scene I never wanted to end). But the parts are super in their own right: Short makes great work of uniting Cass's flighty innocence with her wry acuity, and the Pollyanna tone of her patter pairs beautifully with an underlying subversion. Cass could easily become a tiresome character in other hands, but Short plays constantly and interestingly with the tension between naïveté and irony. As her sidekick, Poole does a spot-on alcoholic, giving Lois candor and a sharp eye along with her passive aggression and sloppy self-pity. All inflect their characters just beyond caricature, and Poole, particularly, is graceful and affecting at it, the cast of her eyes conveying nuances of deep hurt within the comic surliness. Brimmer, as the spurned husband, is laughably convincing, a nervous, effete boy-man; Ela's gravelly delivery and dead-pan are priceless in the stoic Captain; and Weafer is clearly having a blast changing it up (often very speedily) between Goth, Injun, and Medieval waitresses, and finally to her pitch-perfect couples therapist. And what a treat to watch Wigton and Askari don disguises and fumble guns in cahoots. If only their energy and zany wit could be bottled.
As all of these characters carry on, their debates, demonstrations, and disavowals about the Meaning of Life never front-load their quirky entertainment value. Lindsay-Abaire's big questions about enlightenment run along beneath plenty of mischief and scatology, and this cast's boing-y timing keeps us on our toes. On a stage laden with the fall of water, the Theater Project buoys a show that's both contemplative and gloriously raucous.
Megan Grumbling can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.