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Riverwalk Theatre’s latest barrel-of-laughs play — partly about going over Niagara Falls in a barrel — was more fun than a barrel full of monkeys with keys to a funhouse. “Wonder of the World” was a roaring cascade of humor from start to finish.
The true wonder of the play was its central character, Cass, as portrayed by Sarah Hayner. Cass, who retreats to Niagara Falls after discovering an unknown side of her husband, was politely described as “effervescent” and “as bubbly as sparking cider.” Hayner kept up the energy and wacky appeal of the uber-hyper, talkative, scatterbrained woman on a journey of self-discovery. She managed to sustain an I-just-chugged-a-tripleshot-espresso-mixed-with-an-energy-drink persona every time she appeared on stage. That was especially impressive, since she was on stage in every scene.
How many scenes? I lost count after 10 set changes. Laura Croff — who assumed multiple characters — told me after the performance that there were “at least 20.” (The running crew — Diane Cooke, Kelly Jo Garland, Bernie Lucas, Kathryn Stratton, Ric Sadler, and Charles Sartorius — mastered the task of frequent set transformations.)
Croff mastered the task of transforming herself into a six-pack of comedic eccentrics, each with a distinct voice and all worthy of praise. Each character, dressed in comical costumes designed by Anna Maier, earned waves of laughter.
Director Shannon Bowen expertly navigated the churning spectacle and kept “Wonder of the World” flowing. In a magnificent manner, Bob Nees designed a minimal, movable stage that, with minor modifications, always maintained a meaningful manifestation of what each scene meant to communicate.
Erin Hoffman — who also voiced an amusing theater rules announcement at the play’s opening — portrayed Lois, a boisterous, often obnoxious drunk that Hoffman made enjoyable to watch. Adam Carlson’s performance as the creepy husband with deviant tendencies was deliciously palatable. Joe Dickson played Captain Mike — maybe the only “normal” character in the cast — with an obvious ease. The talented trio helped inspire endless ripples of laughter.
Complementing the powerful pool of potent principals was a pair of minor roles, Karla and Glen. Susan Chmurynsky and Mark Zussman took on the roles of husband-and-wife private investigators with a cheesy outrageousness. Chmurynsky was especially charming as a deadpan senior with an adolescent’s potty mouth. The couple’s shocking revelations were about as predictable as pork chop ice cream in the produce section of a vegan hardware store.
David Lindsay-Abaire’s script often veered into the unpredictable and weird. His unique, intertwined and multi-faceted play took the jokes to higher levels. Recurring details and connections between the characters unfolded imaginatively. Surely, even a straight read of Lindsay-Abaire’s script would have been a silly treat. Having his absurdities brought to life on stage produced a waterfall of delights.
The playbill’s cover art — signed by SW Drayer — was also delightful. So were the included “bucket lists” of all those involved in the play, a nod to the massive bucket list Cass carried on stage. What the program overlooked was deserved attribution for its filmic delights.
Credited only as a lighting technician, Cody Skalmowski collected nostalgic slides of iconic locations that were projected on a large cloth screen between scenes. An un-credited Matt Ottinger merited recognition for his crafty incidental videos.
Ottinger also assembled the entire cinematic and photographic collection, including final “where-are-they-now?” pictures taken by producer Rita Deibler. The captioned slides were a hilarious and over-the-top finale to an already delightful production of an over-a-relationship-and-over-the-falls story.
“Wonder of the World” Riverwalk Theatre 7 p.m. Thursday, April 6; 8 p.m. Friday, April 7-Saturday, April 8; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 9 $11/$8 students, seniors and military Thursday; $16/$13 students, seniors and military Friday-Sunday Riverwalk Theatre 228 Museum Drive, Lansing (517) 482-5700, riverwalktheatre.com