Review: EVERYTHING IS WONDERFUL at CATF | Broadway World

photo credit: Seth Freeman Photography

Published 7/24/17

A beautiful story of redemption and forgiveness within a family, Everything is Wonderful truly is a wonderful show at CATF this summer. While still handling a dark subject matter, the tone and eventual outcome of the show is much more light-hearted than one would expect walking in and Ed Herendeen’s direction of the family tale of love and loss is astounding.

Written by Chelsea Marcantel, Everything is Wonderful displays an Amish family in the present day. The two sons in the family have been hit and killed by a (legally not) drunk driver and the same driver shows up at the family’s home asking for forgiveness and offering to help with the family’s day to day chores. At the same time, Miri, the daughter who has been excommunicated from the Amish community due to a dark secret of the past, learns of the tragedy and arrives at the same time as Eric. The family all receive a lesson in forgiveness as they struggle to let go of the past.

As the exiled daughter, Miri, Jessica Savage gives a standout performance. Her character’s rebellious, wild streak is charmingly displayed in the flashback scenes and Savage portrays full command as an adult daughter returning to see her family at the time of tragedy. Her steely resolve and hostility towards some of the male characters is a fiery display that barely conceals her heartbreak and fear bubbling just below the surface. Savage’s prayer toward the end of Act II was devastating and wholly moving, leaving most of the audience in tears.

Jason Babinsky has an equally difficult character portrayal as the recovering alcoholic driver, Eric, who is responsible for the family’s tragedy and yet, more openly accepted by the family than Miri. Babinsky is wonderfully awkward at the beginning of the show, both in his physicality as an outsider and ineptitude at completing Amish farm work. Babinsky makes his character’s transition effortlessly and makes the journey for his forgiveness fully earned. Babinsky and Savage had some standout scenes together, particularly their arguments and gradual bond over their status as outsiders.

Paul DeBoy as father Jacob and Hollis McCarthy as mother Esther have an exceptional chemistry. Their touching scenes were a poignant reminder of how much the family has suffered in the story and a heated argument between the two mid way through Act I was a standout scene. DeBoy has several warm and humorous moments with the younger cast members and McCarthy deserves special mention for showing the true breadth of her character’s emotional devastation in the background of a scene without ever saying a word.

Lexi Lapp is incredibly sweet and docile as younger sister Ruth. Her deadpan delivery and comedic timing on some lines was a truly simple and serene breath of comedy. The scene between Lapp and Savage in Act 1 where they discussed marriage and kissing was also a delightfully comedic moment and easily showed the strong bond between the two sisters. As Abram, Lucky Gretzinger has potentially the most difficult role in the show and handles the character’s transition with great aplomb. His sharp shift in the story, transitioning from the perfect golden boy at the beginning of the story to a more despicable figure once a secret from his past is revealed, is exceptionally handled and Gretzinger makes some of the more despicable actions fully dimensional and still evokes laughter at times.

A wonderfully handled framework of Everything is Wonderful is the concept of time. The play frequently has flashbacks occurring concurrent with scenes in the present day, or in some outstanding transitions, a character will step out of a flashback into a scene set in the present day seamlessly, or vice versa. A concept which could cause mass confusion in lesser hands is expertly developed here and fluidly reveals key plot developments and character information in a uniquely layered style.

One of the truly memorable scenes from the show was the musical montage showing daily chores in the Amish community before Miri’s entrance. The family members sing in harmony as their shovels, cooking utensils and scrub brushes become the percussion instruments. A beautiful display is highlighted by the outstanding set design, with a large window encompassing the entire back wall of the theater, serving as the family’s home windows and displaying lighted projections of different times of day in the Amish countryside.

Everything is Wonderful continues to run as one of the six plays in rotating repertory at the Contemporary American Theater Festival. Everything is Wonderful performances occur in the Frank Center Theater on the campus of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. The final performance occurs July 30 at 2:30 PM. For more information about the show schedule, the 2017 season or to order tickets, please visit www.catf.org.

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