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Wonderful World

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WONDERFUL WORLD, Infamous Commonwealth Theatre, at the Athenaeum Theatre. The cloying quirkiness of Richard Dresser's 2001 Humana Festival script reveals a playwright determined to become the next Nicky Silver. But Silver has a vague understanding of psychology, while Dresser's dysfunctional households are built of shtick and schmaltz. A young woman is nearly hysterical at the prospect of assembling a cheese plate. Her fiance can't understand why his past homicidal urges bother her. A corporate-monster sister-in-law issues typewritten statements when she's upset. And a morose brother lacking all motivation is a motivational speaker. But really, they all love one another.

The performances in this mishmash of farce, black comedy, and tearjerker are generally likable, but the family squabbles are unconvincing and annoying. Paul Cotter in his director's note claims that Dresser's overblown trivialities are social criticism: we focus on petty concerns because we face no big issues like "a pandemic plague" or "perilous poverty"--except, um, AIDS and poverty. Playwrights who ignore what's going on in the world are doomed to produce silly scripts like this one.

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