The world celebrated the centenary of Lucille Ball last weekend. It's regrettable the legendary comedian is no longer on the scene. For one thing, she would have known exactly what to do with Cass, the addled central character in the Delta Boys production of David Lindsay-Abaire's Wonder of the World.
After being a devoted housewife for seven years, Cass suddenly flees her marriage upon learning that her husband, Kip, has been hiding a sexual deviancy so outré and laughable that even our most progressive readers may briefly feel like crossing their legs upon hearing it. On the run, Cass is checking items off a very long roll of wishes that her insular marriage has kept her from pursuing. But, with entries like "wear a wig," "get a sidekick" and "find soul mate," this would-be bucket list often reads more like an index of ambitions for a girl's first year in high school. (Actually, given some of the items, perhaps that should be junior high.)
And there's the rub for this play, the first in a new season of "Wait 'Til You See This" guest shows hosted by Burning Coal Theatre. The immortal Ms. Ball perfected the mixture of subversive adolescence just barely hidden—at least some of the time—beneath a character's more adult veneer. But in Wonder of the World, director J. Chachula and actor Kathryn LeTrent were still working out that combination; on Friday night of opening weekend, LeTrent's Cass appeared to abandon too much of the adult, embracing the flattened selfishness of a determined child instead.
However, it bears observing that Friday's show seemed a transitional one for the company on stage. At first, supporting actor Olivia Griego's work was noticeably underinflated as Lois, a surly boozehound whose Niagara Falls death wish gets sidetracked when Cass abruptly appoints her as boon companion. But by evening's end, we were applauding her triumph, which was as notable as Amy Bossi-Nasiatka's show-stealing turns as a no-joke marriage counselor who just happens to be dressed in a clown suit, and two humiliated waiters—and a third who's just a bit too far into her gig—at three theme restaurants.
Kevin Ferguson's performance as Mike, the boat captain who allows Cass to check "have a passionate affair" off her list, seems darker and more interesting than his earlier iteration of the role when Actors Comedy Lab gave this show its regional premiere in 2003.
We're hoping that similar things can ultimately be said for this production's technical elements as well. But on Friday night, scene transitions and ends of acts were repeatedly marred by guillotined sound cues and jarring audio slam-segues, as well as light cues that played "gotcha" with actors as they attempted to leave the stage. To their credit, supporting actors Jan Doub Morgan and Al Singer—delectable here as an old married couple moonlighting as private eyes—managed to finesse a scene change that left offstage a hotel room fridge which stays in almost constant use given Lois' bottomless thirst. And an occasional "bang" for guns that go off during scenes really should be explored as well.
Despite such technical hiccups, the characterizations in Wonder of the World grew observably stronger as the performance continued. Intelligent actors frequently make discoveries about their characters during a show's run and adjust their performances. It was intriguing to see this take place during Wonder's two acts on Friday. In a rewarding penultimate "group marriage therapy" scene, we saw LeTrent's Cass developing complexity while confronting the myths she had chosen to live by with Kip.
It's hard to predict how the show will evolve in future performances, in a work seemingly devoted to the thought that few of life's problems are so vast and overarching that they can't be successfully run away from. Still, the last time I saw Cass, she was headed in the right direction.