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‘Wonder of the World:’ Dark comedy addresses life and love

Lois Coleman (Christa Weiler) and Cass Harris (Abby Schoenborn) perform a scene from "Wonders of the World" at the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

When “Wonder of the World” opens, Cass Harris is on her bedroom floor packing her belongings into a single suitcase. She appears to be full of wonder, until a call from her husband, Kip, sends her into an instant panic.

Cass is leaving him, and he’s about to find out. But, the reason why will remain a mystery until the end of Act 1.

Under the direction of Chris Berg, of Grand Forks, David Lindsay-Abaire’s show opened Jan. 16 and closes Saturday at The Empire Arts Center. The show may be new to many, but the playwright’s work has been popular throughout the Grand Cities. The Firehall Theatre has presented two of his dark comedies in recent years: “Good People” in 2012 and “Kimberly Akimbo” in 2010. His drama “Rabbit Hole” is also well-known, as it was the 2007 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

And, like his other plays “Wonder of the World” mixes comedy, drama and a touch of mystery to create an interesting show that appears unrealistic on the surface but has life messages intertwined in each scene.

An adventure in a list

After the opening scene, Cass hops on the first bus to Niagara Falls with an extensive to-do list, which foreshadows the events of the play. The list contains more than 200 silly and serious things she wants to accomplish, such as “wear overalls,” “be a contestant on ‘The Newlywed Game,’” and “get a sidekick,” and she’ll cross them off one by one as the comical mystery progresses.

On the bus, she meets Lois, a suicidal alcoholic who plans to traverse the falls in a barrel. Cass strikes up a conversation with the stranger and quickly names Lois her sidekick, crossing two things off of her list.

“Cass and Lois are kind of polar opposites, and I think that’s kind of why the dynamic works,” Christa Weiler said.

While Lois is preparing to end her life, Cass feels her life is just beginning, and she’s ready to take it by storm.

“(Cass is) sort of like a fun combination of me in real life and Jess from ‘New Girl,’” Schoenborn said.

On the other hand, “Lois is very self-centered and self-pitying, but I think that’s kind of why she’s funny. She’s kind of over-the-top … a caricature of herself,” Weiler said.

Despite their apparent differences, the cynical Lois and optimistic Cass bunk up in a hotel room and begin their adventure, which takes them out to sea, up in the air and eventually back to the hotel where the rest of the story unfolds. Along the way, they meet Captain Mike, who becomes a new love interest for Cass. They also bump into honeymooners Karla and Glen, who aren’t who they appear to be.

A variety of other peculiar characters appear throughout the story as well, only adding to the comical element of the show.

Unrealistic, yet relevant

Berg said the play has kind of a road trip quality to it as Cass tries to discover who she is and searches for her soul mate.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite shows.”

“It’s kind of like your typical Greek comedy and tragedy, like the drama masks,” Weiler added. “I think it’s really funny.”

Weiler said people should understand that the play is not realistic, and the writing allows the actors to be way over-the-top.

“I think it’s really funny, even in our first read-through, we were laughing out loud because it’s so ridiculous,” she said.

But, while the characters and events of “Wonder of the World” may be over-the-top and impractical, Abby Schoenborn said the play does have some depth as it addresses love, life and relationships.

“I like that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it really has an interesting way of addressing some relevant questions that everyone has,” she said.

She added that like Cass, everyone wants to find their place and purpose in this world. That includes Schoenborn who added that she’s still trying to figure it out.

“I’m 23 and fresh out of college, so I definitely relate to not knowing where I’m supposed to be,” she said.

The show also addresses the issue of finding one’s soul mate.

“(Cass) is so focused on finding her soul mate, but I was kind of toying with the idea that Lois as a friend is kind of that soul mate,” Schoenborn said. “Sometimes, the relationship that you want might actually be right there in the form of a platonic friendship.”

‘It is OK to laugh’

Weiler said she thinks “Wonder of the World” appeals to a wide variety of people, but she said it does have some explicit language and situations not appropriate for young children. The play also has many minor details, ongoing jokes and smaller story lines, which young audiences might not be able to follow.

“I think there’s a lot of details you can kind of miss,” Weiler said. “If you pay attention to the little details, it kind of comes full circle. I think that’s really funny.”

Being a dark comedy with jokes about divorce and suicide, Weiler and Schoenborn said it’s also important for the audience to understand that it’s a farce.

“If people know that before coming to watch it, I think it’ll be more funny,” Weiler said.

“I know it’s sort of hard at first because you don’t know what’s going on, and you don’t know if it’s OK to laugh, but it is OK to laugh,” Schoenborn added. “I hope that people come and laugh because it makes it so much fun to be up there.”

Schoenborn said she also hopes people take something away from the show and learn to not stress where they need to be, but rather worry about where they are.

If you go:

  • What: Empire Theatre Company presents “Wonder of the World,” by David Lindsay-Abaire.
  • When: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday.
  • Where: The Empire Arts Center.
  • Cost: $15.
  • Info: (701) 746-5500.


  • Cass Harris: Abby Schoenborn, of East Grand Forks.
  • Kip Harris: Cole Nelson, of Osseo, Minn.
  • Lois Coleman: Christa Weiler, of Grand Forks.
  • Captain Mike: Gabe Figueroa, of Grand Forks.
  • Karla: Mare Thompson, of Grand Forks.
  • Glen: Jerry Wehry, of Grand Forks.
  • Barbara, pilot, waitresses, Janie: Jaclyn Beito, of Grand Forks.
Jasmine Maki
Jasmine Maki is a features reporter for Accent. Her main beats are arts and entertainment and life and style. She also occasionally covers health, family and TV.
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