Seven Wonders of the World (Plus One)
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., March 22, 2002
Seven Wonders of the World (Plus One):
Darn That DreamThe Vortex,
through March 30
Running Time: 1 hr, 15 min
You've tried to describe a dream to someone, haven't you? It's always a little, well, trippy, isn't it? Those things that you understand intuitively, that feel perfectly natural in the dream, just sound odd when you put them into words. Like: "I was back in high school, but it didn't look like my old school. It was in these woods, like a camp, and I was running through the woods to get from classroom to classroom, and then, suddenly, I was in a race, running with these other kids, and one of them was some guy from That '70s Show ..." And so it goes. No matter how much sense it made while you were sleeping, awake it invariably comes off as strange, screwy, goofy.
The Tongue and Groove Theatre gang have some serious fun with this disconnect between dreaming and waking life in their world premiere production of Seven Wonders of the World (Plus One). The source material, a 1940s-era suite of songs linked by spoken text, follows a dreamer across time and space to various landmarks of both the ancient world and the modern U.S. As conceived by Robert Scherman, the songwriter and music producer credited with discovering Nat King Cole, this work may have been spectacular and mystical, flowing freely from past to present, linking the marvels of antiquity to those of today. But in presentation, it's a little, well, trippy. First, we're in old Egypt, Persia, and Greece, with the dreamer soberly living out episodes from a Classics Illustrated comic, then abruptly, we're in the Big Apple, circa 1950, with our hero on the prowl for a hot date. After a sudden shift to the Big Easy, he finds one and, quicker than you can say Voulez-vous couchez avec moi, the two are on the Honeymoon Express bound for the Grand Canyon, from which they leap to San Francisco and then Hawaii to live happily ever after. It all happens about that fast, what narrative there is providing little in the way of transition; we just bounce from then to now, temple to skyscraper, classical drama to screwball romance.
None of this bothers director David Yeakle. He accepts the work's oddities as such stuff as dreams are made on and establishes whatever milieu and mood suit the moment -- Cecil B. DeMille Egyptian tableau, MGM salute-to-Gotham pageant, Honeymooners-on-holiday luau number -- as quickly as he can. And that's part of the fun: Yeakle and crew don't disguise the fact that they're doing a show, so when the dream swerves from setting to setting, the cast bolts off and on like Olympic sprinters, some still getting into costume, some huffing and puffing, some looking annoyed. It adds to the already antic atmosphere, a mad dash to keep pace with the unpredictable whims of a capricious master. That's doubly true for the second act, which is a caffeinated replay of the first, that is, the cast rushes through the whole dream in half the time. For anyone who ever got a giggle out of playing a 33rpm record at 45, this is a scene to see -- a giddy frolic.
The company provides other pleasures along the way: Anne-Marie Gordon's oversized pastel postcards on the stage floor and walls; Jennifer Sherburn's playful choreography; Peter Sukovaty's underlighting, casting big, dreamy shadows across the wall; beefy Mick D'Arcy as Cupid and lean Taylor Maddux as the Pharaoh's cruel slavedriver; Sükryie Yüksel and Star Costumes' colorful outfits, from Egyptian maidens to the Empire State Building; Mark Stewart's sweetly oblivious dreamer -- the only one who doesn't seem to know he's in a show.
When Stewart dances with the sweet and funny Elizabeth Doss, it took me back to a Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Steve Martin and Gilda Radner as two singles of the Seventies who fantasize themselves as Fred and Ginger dancing rhapsodically into romance. Their dance acknowledged that they weren't expert dancers -- they stumbled and stepped on each other's toes and winced -- but it just made their comic attempts to realize their dream all the more endearing. That's the spirit of this unique show.