The thing about The Berkshires and culture, is that so much happens in so many unexpected places and people insist on showing up. Case in point: Barrington Stage Company is operating out of several venues while they await the opening of their permanent new home in Pittsfield (premiere scheduled for August 10). One of those venues is the Duffin Theatre, located at Lenox Memorial High School. I am not a native Lenox-ian, so the drive to East Street, though by no means Herculean, struck me as more than slightly out-of-the-way. I arrived early and sat beside the parking lot welcoming each hesitant breeze. That was about 6:15 for a 7:00 start. By about 6:40 the cars were pouring in and people were filling the lovely venue. Though the play started quite late, there were few empty seats. That's one of the tricks of magic that informs the wonder of this region.
As for the play itself -- Wonder of the World, a serious comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire -- it is stronger on ideas than execution. Of this playwright's major plays, WOW, as we'll refer to it for the rest of this review, is his least satisfying. There is much to admire, more to laugh at and, finally, something to think about after the final fadeout, but the writer is dogged by his inability to frame and coherently contain his themes.
The play begins as Cass is packing to leave Kip, her husband of seven years. She knows in her heart and gut that there is a life for her that she has yet to experience and relish. She flees to Niagara Falls in order to work her way through a wish list that includes making friends with a clown, wearing a wig -- perhaps this gives you an idea of Lindsay-Abaire's fractured world picture. It is a gifted vision, and in plays like Kimberly Akimbo and Fuddy Meers, he provides a foundation and narrative that more happily serve as a repository for his great non-sequiturs and other inanities.
This playwright owes much to writers like Christopher Durang and John Guare, but the key here is that he owes them much without ever coming close to channeling them or appropriating what they have found for themselves. The less-than-happy results here stem from the less-than-satisfying play script.
Adding to the script's problems is an overproduced imagining of the multi-scene structure that challenges any designer. Luke Hegel-Cantarella is too literal as he transports us from apartment to bus to motel room to Niagara Falls, and on and on. Scene changes, while effective and impressive at first, slow the action too much and by the second act, when the writer clearly has no idea where next to take his zonked out characters, the pace suffers and our attention is not always where it needs to be.
The ensemble is charming and they enjoy playing together. Especially skilled at this style of comedy are Susan Louise O'Connor and Libby George. Keira Naughton, who plays the woebegone wife, certainly understands what the writing and her character demand, but she lacks the charisma and warmth to draw us into the play. Jokey and disconnected as the dialogue is, we have to care for the young woman if we are to hang in with the ragged structure and the unravelling of the already-stretched story line.
BSC is maintaining its place as a company to take seriously -- comedy or drama or musical styles aside -- and their new home promises a long and rich future. It's another Berkshires high point that audiences will follow the company from one town to the next, all the while supporting plays that challenge expectations and appetites.