Hue and Cry: The Orange Girls go out with a guffaw

Late in David Lindsay-Abaire's exhilarating madcap comedy Wonder of the World, which is being staged to a fare-thee-well by the Orange Girls, after our effervescent heroine Cass has walked out on her husband and ended up sharing a motel room with a depressive barrel-toting alcoholic at Niagara Falls, and after she's initiated an affair with the boat captain of the Maid of the Mist and engaged in all kinds of wild adventures that never could have occurred in her staid home back in Brooklyn, as an ambulance is on its way to the rescue (don't ask), Cass requests, "When they get here, would you just explain what happened?"

No easy chore, that, because — as is the case with so many of Lindsay-Abaire's deliciously idiosyncratic plays — Wonder of the World tells an unlikely story more to be savored than explained. Nor is it easy to explain what happened to the Orange Girls, a company that will cease to function after this weekend. But one thing is for sure: They could not be ending their brief but welcome four-year existence on a brighter note. This swan-song offering is an impeccably produced delight. Such imagination is at play here! Dunsi Dai's scenic design finds an ingeniously simple way to present Niagara Falls. His Cave of the Winds is the next best thing to being there, especially as enhanced by Mandy Bruggeman's sound design, which would have us believe we're standing under the falls. Do we credit Bess Moynihan's lighting for the misty spray that billows across the stage, just as it does at the falls?

Under the tight reins of director Deanna Jent, who excels at imposing a sense of discipline on expansive farce (Noises Off, Red Herring), this cast would be hard to improve upon. Brooke Edwards brings her Orange Girls résumé full circle, for the terminally chirpy Cass is, in her own way, as lost and childlike as Etta, the prairie waif Edwards so memorably etched in the 2005 debut Orange Girls offering Going to See the Elephant (also directed by Jent). Edwards is equally mesmerizing here. In the opening scene with her hapless husband Kip (Charlie Barron in good form), Cass's very existence is so twisted, it's as if she's rehearsing to play the Elephant Man. Yet Edwards manages to carry the show on her shoulders with seeming ease. There's also exceptional work from Kirsten Wylder, who gives an astonishingly understated yet comic portrayal as the alcoholic (who might well be Cass's repressed dark side), and from Christopher Hickey, whose boat captain is the essence of simplicity. Mary Schnitzler triumphs at making a variety of loony roles distinct and fresh. Greg Johnston and Kelley Ryan complete the cast as a couple of amateur sleuths. They're fine, though their roles are not as clearly delineated as the others.

Charlie Barron and Brooke Edwards don't quite see eye to eye.
Gerry Love
Charlie Barron and Brooke Edwards don't quite see eye to eye.

Details

Wonder of the World
Through October 11 at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City.
Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors).
Call 314-520-9557 or visit www.orangegirls.org.

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Wonder of the World tells an unpredictable story, to be sure, but no more unpredictable than that of the Orange Girls (Brooke Edwards, Michelle Hand, Meghan Maguire), who without fanfare opened their company four years ago just in time to exploit the new Kevin Kline Awards. Before you could say "Nell Gwyn," the Girls had collected several awards, lots of free publicity and a permanent home at COCA. By my tally, in four seasons they've staged eleven plays. I saw ten and was happy to have seen eight — which sounds like an impressive ratio to me. Bold Girls, Playhouse Creatures, The Road to Mecca and Collected Stories remain especially vivid.

The Orange Girls website includes a comment from one of my reviews that says: "It is a pleasure to see such passion and conviction so persuasively rendered." I no longer recall in which review that line appeared, but it could have been any of them, because that was their imprimatur. I could write the same line about Wonder of the World — but if I did, I would end the sentence with an exclamation point. Early in the evening Cass tells us that she's "just looking for things to do." Aren't we all? Without the Orange Girls, we're going to have to look that much harder for passionate theater, persuasively rendered.

 
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