‘Wonderful World’ is an uproariously twisted, dark comedy by Massachusetts author, Richard Dresser. This play premiered in spring 2001, as Richard was celebrating his 50th birthday. His first job was making plastic thighs for G.I. Joe toys! Dresser then learnt his writing skills as a freelance who prepared corporate speeches.
This will be the first time that ‘Wonderful World’ has been staged in Perth; and this two and a quarter hour play is being brought to you by the Melville Theatre Company, at the Melville Theatre on the corner of Stock Road and the Canning Highway.
The season has curtain up at 8.00 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, with a matinée on Sunday 2nd Dec at 2.00 pm.
The scene: New England at Thanksgiving 2017.
The set: There are several scenes, including houses, a bar, hospital, office and a back garden; All are depicted on a totally black stage. There are black drapes along the back of the stage, which can be parted to allow the large props to be hidden behind. The stage wings are matt black flats. Even some smaller props, like the bentwood hat and coat rack, were also painted in matt black.
There was no adornment, minimal props and as little colour as possible; this helped focus the audience’s full attention on the performers.
There were several settees (one at a time), a small office set on the side apron, and most surprisingly a working barbeque grill.
Alex Coutts-Smith’s lighting design was – in line with the set – minimal. A few cleverly selected lamps with good angles and colour, created the mood and location. The plain black floor became a carpet with a patterned spotlight. Barbara Lovell showed great skill with her subtle, smooth sound and lighting fades.
I am not too sure who created the soundscape, but the old Mum loved her clocks, which chimed randomly; but I noted that the pitch of each clock striking was appropriate for the situation; a Grandfather clock would strike deeply when the conversation hit a low point, and a small carriage clock would tinkle its chime with happier moments.
The stage management was under the supervision of Ellis R. Kinnear, and his deputy, Eleanor Weller. Prop movement was often carried out with the help of the cast, and it was smooth, fast and did not hinder the story’s flow.
We join easy-going and loving Max (Paul Davey) chatting to his adoring, but fretful girlfriend, Jennifer (Madeleine Jones). Jennifer is starting to panic, Max’s insecure brother, Barry (Jethro Pidd) and his highflying executive wife, Patty (Natalie Burbage), have not arrived for their informal wine and cheese evening. As they wait, Max tells Jennifer of a strange and disturbing dream he once had. Jennifer is devastated.
Eventually Barry arrives – alone. When the invitation said ‘You’, Barry assumed it was for him alone, not that ‘You’ was plural and included his wife. Patty is furious and is now refusing to talk to anyone. Is blood really thicker than water?
Perhaps when they meet up at the home of Lydia (Valerie Henry), the boys slightly dotty Mum, the atmosphere may resolve itself.
Being a speechwriter, Dresser had to learn the art of using a minimum of words, employing precise adjectives, whilst conveying the mood. Hence, the script of this play is rich, flows beautifully and exceptionally expressive.
This play has many different moods and emotional situations. Faced with such a cleverly constructed script, it took a special director to handle the sensitivity and dispositions; director Geoffrey Leeder was the ideal man. He has selected five outstanding actors. Often, a director is lucky to find one good actor for his cast, which can often mean the others appear extra weak, or even terrible.
This is the perfect team, where everyone knew his or her character perfectly. The dialogue delivery had the correct pace, intonation, and emotion with superb chemistry within the group. At times, I could feel my hackles rise, and even had a great desire to get on the stage to sort out a particularly malicious and arrogant family member.
The actors managed to feed off each other, and this led to great body language and facial expressions, as the situations and loyalties changed by the minute.
Congratulations to Geoffrey and your ‘strange family’. Exceptional quality. A great night out.