Wonders of No Name's risk-taking never cease
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The modestly (or aggressively?) named No Name Players is back where it made its memorable 2004 debut with "Big Love," Charles Mee's sexy, gory version of ancient Greek tragedy that made that year's theatrical Top 10.
The company followed up in 2005 with the American premiere of Canadian Alex Poch-Goldin's mysterioso farce, "This Hotel," then faded to black as founder Don DiGiulio and his bride, actress Tressa Glover, tested the theatrical scene in Chicago.
Now, reinstalled in Pittsburgh, they have resurrected No Name and are back at the Open Stage Theatre with David Lindsay-Abaire's "Wonder of the World."
- Where: No Name Players at Open Stage, 2835 Smallman St., Strip District
- When: Through Dec. 14: Wed.-Sun, 8 p.m.
- Tickets: $10
- More information: 412-207-7111
So I guess you could say that No Name has a taste for surreal, fractured comedy, except that three shows over five years isn't really enough info to go on. More usefully, Lindsay-Abaire is the playwright of "Fuddy Meers" (City Theatre) and "A Devil Inside" (Penn Ave. Theater), "Kimberly Akimbo" (Playhouse Rep) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Rabbit Hole" (Public Theater).
Personally, and this probably shows my age, I can't always separate him from one of his teachers at Juilliard, Christopher Durang, who writes similarly surreal, fractured comedies. That certainly describes "Wonder of the World," in which a young wife, Cass, does a sudden bunk from New Jersey and stolid husband Kip, and flees to -- of all places -- Niagara Falls, with a long list of adventures she hopes to check off.
Along the way she attaches herself to Lois, a skinny depressive planning to do the ultimate bunk over the Falls in a barrel, meets handsome Capt. Mike and is tailed by elderly, bumbling private detectives Karla and Glen.
Kip pursues her, but he has a bizarre sexual preference that she just can't forgive -- 'nuff said. At least it isn't described at length, and I suppose it's funny.
Soon everyone finds themselves at cross-purposes in a Niagara Falls hotel room, along with a barrel, a gun, lots of small liquor bottles and Cass' list. Hilarity ensues. It didn't always tickle me as much as the maniacal laugher beside me, but there is also a substructure of significant meaning about the willingness to risk.
That relates directly to the title, which of course refers initially to Niagara Falls, a certified Wonder, but also suggests more about the eccentricities of life. There's a great final moment, a stop-frame in which we share a panoramic view of the crazy, heart-breaking, impossible, beautiful world.
For me, there weren't enough moments with such force, but I salute No Name for continuing to bite off more than just about anyone could chew.
DeGiulio directs with good pace, although some performances would improve if they were drier and not so desperate to entertain. John E. Lane Jr. provides a necessarily complex set, and Nick Coppula some lively video projections.
Glover is the heroine, attractively rueful if sometimes over the edge. David Flick and Gab Bonesso are in better scale as Kip and the not-so-suicidal Lois (and she's very funny, too). Lynne Franks and Jay Keenan pair up as the addled oldsters, Jody O'Donnell is a stalwart Mike with his own streak of silliness and Nikki McCrea plays a comic series of waitresses and a group counselor from Hell, or rather, Barnum & Bailey.
As I say, it's tough material, needing careful stylistic control. No Name still aims high.
First Published December 4, 2008 12:00 am