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Robrt Pela: Review Of 'Wonderland Wives' At Nearly Naked Theatre

(Photo courtesy of Nearly Naked Theatre)
Wonderland Wives runs through April 23.

There’s no profundity and very little art in Buddy Thomas’s Wonderland Wives, now stomping and huffing over at Nearly Naked Theatre. Nor is there intended to be. This raucous raspberry to childhood’s best-known bedtime stories, neatly directed in its world premiere by company founder Damon Dering, replaces taste and freshness with a larger-than-life cast. They provide enough satisfying fun and games that no audience could possibly spite them for rehashing old gags. I laughed often, sometimes in spite of myself.

Paul Wilson’s stunning hand-painted set is a high-color snicker aimed at every early Disney feature ever scribbled. Its cheerful castle interior and farcical forest backdrop promise nonsense before Act One even commences. And what nonsense! After thrusting them into various doomsday positions, we’re introduced to short-tempered versions of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Lewis Carroll’s Alice, and the Beauty’s Belle, all of them at odds with the men in their lives and discouraged with their happily-ever-afters.

If Valley of the Dolls author Jacqueline Susann had written fairy tales instead of potboilers, they might have resembled these second-act stories, whose heroines are all slatternly, marvelously grouchy, and mostly played by men. The effect is of an especially rambunctious Bette Davis impersonation contest. Bill Dyer channels Divine in a riveting tirade about giving birth to a litter of muskrats, and is a literal scream displaying the aftereffects of a night spent with Prince Charming. Matthew Harris’s Cinderella is a thrilling pile of raised eyebrows and hip thrusts.

Actor Terre Steed inches slightly ahead in this drag race, if only because he portrays four different women, most notably a Wynnona-Judd-inspired Alice, a giant little girl in a snowy dirndl whose wonderland has failed her.

The real women in the cast do what they can to compete, but aside from entering in flames while singing “Il Dolce Suono,” I can’t imagine how they’d have trumped this romper room full of baritone Baby Janes.

We have seen every single bit of this before. But if Damon Dering, a past master of camp, has done nothing new in bringing us this far-flung fairy tale, he’s done the next best thing: He has entertained us. Again.

Robrt Pela’s reviews appear in the Phoenix New Times.