The Wonder

By Susanna Centlivre; Directed by Rebecca Patterson

Amy Driesler as Lissardo (kneeling), Maryam Benganga as Colonel Britton, Valerie Redd as Isabella, Annie Paul as Flora, Abbi Hawk as Violante and Virginia Baeta as Don Felix in The Wonder.

BOTTOM LINE: If you ever had trouble with the classics, go check out this amazingly entertaining revival and you’ll understand why we keep doing them.

If I told you that you were going to see a play written in 1714 about gender roles in which all the men were played by women in drag, but that you were really going to enjoy it, you’d tell me I was crazy, right? But you’d be wrong.

The 12-year old Queen’s Company (as in the opposite of The Kings' Company, not the borough north of Brooklyn) has developed quite a reputation doing just this. Under Artistic Director Rebecca Patterson, the company has produced 12 classic plays featuring all-female casts (yes, they’ve done lots of Shakespeare, but its nice to remember that he wasn’t the only one to write plays pre-1900). It could have the air of a graduate school project about it, but The Queen’s Company brings way too much talent and good old-fashioned theatre-sense to the idea to let that happen.

So let’s just say it up front: Ms. Patterson is a genius. She has fashioned this intriguing comedy of honor and love into a heady, fiercely intelligent yet broadly entertaining romp that manages to bring new life to a forgotten play, skewer and interrogate every gender stereotype we have, and bring belly laughs to audiences. That’s a tall task, and she nails it.

She’s not alone in the endeavor. In my eyes the spot-on direction and brilliant use of contemporary sound (let’s hear it for a director that’s not afraid to turn the volume up to concert levels) is the star of this show, but the cast is uniformly excellent. They are all clearly on board with Ms. Patterson’s intellectual conceits, but more importantly, they all know how to handle classic text (words simply melt in the mouth of Virginia Baeta’s Felix), they are all sharp comedians (none more so than Annie Paul as Flora, the saucy chambermaid), and they can wring a joke or tear out of the hoariest of ancient phrases (special shout out to Natalie Lebert, whose various quadruple-cast turns are riotous - even when you have no idea what she is talking about under that mile-thick Scottish brogue).

On top of all that, there is a star being born right here on Theatre Row. Abbi Hawk is simply radiant as Violante, the central female character whose stubborn refusal to hold her honor less sacred than any man’s spurs the convoluted romantic plot. From the very first moment of unspoken action, her deep eyes, flowing black tresses and fiery spirit light up the stage; in a cast this deep and strong, it is a huge compliment to say that everyone is better when Ms. Hawk is onstage.

Okay, yeah, I got a crush. I can admit that.

Scenic designer Kip Marsh creates a comfortable, bright environment that is part yoga studio and part Globe theatre. Miriam Crowe adds simple and bright lighting design that shows its sophistication in letting the actors dominate, and Jeanette Aultz Look’s jaunty costumes run right up to the edge of parody, then gently settle back into subtle, jewel-toned fun.

Alright, I am simply out of superlatives. I hugely endorse The Wonder and The Queen’s Company. This is what theatre should be - smart, sassy and strong, filled with ideas and idealism, and always, always, built to entertain. Do me a favor, do yourself a favor, get over to the Kirk and see it.

(The Wonder plays Kirk Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, through March 14, 2010. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $18. Running time is approximately two hours twenty minutes with a 15 minute intermission. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit or, or call 212. 279.4200)