Dear World by Ten Thousand Things

Shawn Vriesen, Christina Baldwin, Janet Paone (back turned), Fred Wagner, Thomasina Petrus (back turned) and JuCoby Johnson in Dear World. Photo by Paula Keller.

Shawn Vriesen, Christina Baldwin, Janet Paone (back turned), Fred Wagner, Thomasina Petrus (back turned) and JuCoby Johnson in Dear World. Photo by Paula Keller.

Dear World (at Ten Thousand Things through Feb 7; various venues; please visit the TTT website for specific info) is decidedly un-glitzy. This despite a book (based on Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman Of Chaillot) by big-stage sentimentalists Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee and music by the ageing king of Broadway Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly, La Cage Aux Folles, et al). The original Dear World (1969) starred Angela Lansbury (who won a Tony) and was energized, over-the-top and in-your-face. It was badly received and closed with fortuitous quickness.

TTT forgoes all this NYC manic-ness. Led by the estimable Peter Vitale, who plays (among other instruments) keyboards, clarinet, drums, accordion, innumerable percussive devices, etc., the actors sing simplified versions of the Herman songs. Indeed, you might call this Dear World semi-acapella. Emphasis is on the sweet, quiet and lyrical fabulousness (as in fable-like) of the story: bad men – Presidents all – led by a bizarre Texas oilman who tells them that, starting with a café, the fair city of Paris floats atop a sea of oil, there for the taking. And take it these evil men intend to do, until they are stopped by the colorful denizens of the Paris street, led with goofy power by Countess Aurelia, the madwoman.

As is always the case at TTT (remember: No stagelights! Minimal set! Intimacy!), the acting in Dear World is first rate. Where else do you get to experience artists like this in such close surroundings? Under Sarah Rasmussen‘s intelligent direction, the performers display their singing chops (Sheena Janson and Janet Paone are particularly wonderful in this regard) as well as considerable acting chops. Excellent is Kris Nelson as the Sewer Man, pining away for the lost glory that was once Paris. Paone thrills as Aurelia the peripatetic madwoman, with her flowing red locks, her Cohen-esque rags and feathers, her too-thick but right-on make-up. Lovely.

I giggled more or less nonstop whenever Christina Baldwin and Thomasina Petrus were onstage. As the street persons Mesdames Constance and Gabrielle, not quite as mad as the madwoman (but getting there), with the imaginary dog, the bent energy, the inimitable fashion sense, the theatrical shyness. La Petrus and La Baldwin provide a delicious reason to see Dear World.

But (Oh no! The critical but! Stop this man before he buts again!) one wonders if the underplayed exploratory energy doesn’t undermine the play. The emphasis on the (somewhat silly) story means that much of Dear World makes no real sense. What happens in the play-ending trial? How are the Presidents defeated? Why do the characters bend over as they make their entrances?

End of critical (and ignorable) paragraph.

Ah, but do see this one. Vitale and the cast make Dear World sweet and funny.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book about the magic of bedtime stories, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, has just been published. In progress: a theatrical portrait of the great Anna May Wong.

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