By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated March 17, 2020 at 03:00 AM EDT

Wonder of the World

C+
type
  • Stage

Sarah Jessica Parker is the marquee star of David Lindsay-Abaire’s wacky trifle Wonder of the World. But the soul of the show — the playwright’s galumphy, Dada muse — is Marylouise Burke, a seasoned stage actress who has appeared in four of Lindsay-Abaire’s productions. On first glance, Ms. Burke projects the practicality of a tough old bird, the sort of shopper who proffers her own public-TV totebag at the checkout counter to save trees. But as in the author’s previous absurdist Manhattan Theatre Club hit, 1999’s Fuddy Meers, the actress employs a choppy gait, squinchy eyes, and pursed lips permanently set on What’s it to ya? in service of her crackpot characters.

The author loves his crackpots. But theatrical crackpotism, which looked so easy to do in high school, is difficult to create on a midtown stage for middle-aged theatergoers. And even with the ultra-winsome Ms. Parker in the lead, Wonder of the World staggers under the feathery weight of whimsy, directed by Christopher Ashley (The Rocky Horror Show) with an emphasis on whim.

This time around, Burke plays half of a little old couple hired as private investigators to track down a wayward wife. (Bill Raymond is her lesser half.) The pair are on the trail of Cass Harris (Parker), who has abruptly decided to leave her husband, Kip (excellent Alan Tudyk), and all that their boomer marriage of seven years offered because, she says, Kip’s not the person she thought he was. Some of this has to do with the discovery of a certain sexual fetish that Kip has previously kept under wraps; more of it has to do with Cass’ suddenly burning need to fulfill a long list of life goals she had been keeping under her own wraps, on a very long rolled-up piece of paper.

”Let’s be lesbians for the weekend!” Cass tweets to Lois (Kristine Nielsen), a stranger she befriends on a bus to Niagara Falls. (On the list: Have a conversation with a stranger; be a lesbian; etc.) Lois is an alcoholic who plans to fling herself over the falls in a barrel, suicide revenge on the husband who has left her. Captain Mike (Kevin Chamberlin) is a boatman the women meet, a widower whose wife expired when a giant jar of peanut butter hit her in the head. A helicopter pilot afraid of heights makes an appearance, as do three theme-restaurant waitresses and a marriage therapist in a clown suit (all of them played by surrealist sketch artist Amy Sedaris). Soon enough, the hotel room the women share (in a nonlesbian way) fills with hot-air farce.

On the harlequin-patterned wall of that busy room, set designer David Gallo has hung a painting of sky. The picture — very Magritte — may represent the wonder of the world outside. But it’s also a fair portrait of the comedy within: eye-catching fluff framed with gilt-edged performances by good actors who can’t see their characters through the playwright’s clouds.

Episode Recaps

Wonder of the World

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