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STAGE REVIEW

'Wonder of the World' is a barrel of laughs

LENOX -- ``Wonder of the World" is the kind of play where it somehow seems plausible that a woman would carry a platter of trout aspic onto a bus. It's the kind of play where people say utterly outrageous things so soberly that, for a split second, they don't sound outrageous at all. It's the kind of play where you find yourself laughing hysterically about divorce, alcoholism, murder, sexual deviance, and suicide. You can't believe you're laughing, but you are. A lot.

It's hard to describe this antic, wild, ridiculous, and yet somehow touching production by the Barrington Stage Company without giving too much away. For part of the delight in David Lindsay-Abaire's skewed, hypercharged tragi-farce of a domestic comedy is the element of surprise. From the aspic on, we accept that pretty much anything can happen here. Still, we never know exactly which one thing to expect next, and it's the giddy randomness (which turns out to be not so random) that gets us laughing until we're out of breath.

We begin in Brooklyn's Park Slope, where 30-ish Cass has learned something revolting about her husband, Kip. She's packing to leave him when he shows up unexpectedly. She leaves anyway, with the aspic, and off we go, on the slightest of pretexts, to Niagara Falls.

Along the way she meets Lois, a suicidal drunk who may be the funniest character onstage. Complications ensue, to put it mildly. Let's just say that Lois has a barrel in which she plans to shoot the falls, Cass has a list of things she wants to do in life that include learning Swedish and having a torrid fling, Kip doesn't give up easily, and Niagara will bring them all together to live out at least some of their dreams.

That's really all you need to know, unless you share Kip's pathological fear of clowns. For the rest, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Rob Ruggiero's smartly paced direction makes that easy, as does the crack comic timing of the cast.

Finnerty Steeves is particularly sharp as the bitterly comic Lois, while Keira Naughton gives Cass just enough flakiness to be amusing instead of grating. Dan Cantor makes a charming, funny captain of the Maid of the Mist; Susan Louise O'Connor nearly steals the show in a slew of small parts; veterans Libby George and William Bogert offer delightfully deadpan support as a bumbling pair of -- well, never mind what just now -- and Brian Hutchison, as Kip, looks so normal that you'd never suspect that he . . .

Oops. Better stop. But it's safe to reveal that Luke Hegel-Cantarella designs a honey of a set, one versatile enough to encompass a bus, a motel room, a couple of helicopters, and even, with some creatively watery light from Scott Pinkney, Niagara Falls themselves. For any more information than that, you'll have to take a ride in Lindsay-Abaire's barrel yourself.

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