The disappointment that Rochester Repertory Theatre is not doing a holiday show this season is tempered by what has been scheduled instead: “Wandaleria,” a clever comedy by David Valdes.
The play, which opened Friday, centers on Wanda, who rarely vacates the recliner in front of the TV, other than for flights of fancy that carry her away from her deadly dull life. Things get a lot more exciting, though, when Wanda gets word that Rocky, her prison pen pal, has been released and is on his way to her small Maine town for a visit. To reveal more than that would give away too many surprises, in a script that’s full of them.
Director Debbie Fuehrer has cast Annette Schuler as Wanda, with Pam Whitfield as her sister/landlord Betsy, Becca Messick as Betsy’s daughter Ivy, and Scott Stekel as Rocky. Jim Hencinski and Scott Koon each portray a variety of characters from Wanda’s active imagination.
Schuler has a wonderfully deadpan way of delivering even the funniest or most outrageous lines, a trait that goes a long way toward making this play plausible. Whitfield’s Betsy is perpetually angry and impossible to please–but her heart is in the right place. Messick has fun as Ivy, a young woman searching for her own identity.
Also enjoyable is Stekel, whose Rocky manages to put on a convincing display of innocence. The prison inmate’s apparent expertise regarding rare flowers is one of the more ingenious aspects of this story. And it turns out his imagination and storytelling ability are as vivid as Wanda’s.
As for Koon and Hencinski, they respect no boundaries when it comes to getting a laugh. Set design is by Theo St. Mane, with costumes by Jenniefer Anderson.
Valdes, the playwright, traveled from his home in Boston to attend opening weekend at the Rep. His play has much to say about how we convince ourselves that change is often too hard to even attempt. Once the inertia is overcome, though, something better than fantasy becomes possible.
So, it’s not a Christmas play, as might be expected and hoped for, but the Rep’s “Wandaleria” is a satisfying gift of the season.
–Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin November 25, 2019