‘Wonderful’ not quite so

Lori Wilner: Photo by Harlan Taylor    Lori Wilner in the one-woman show “When Something Wonderful Ends.”

Lori Wilner: Photo by Harlan Taylor Lori Wilner in the one-woman show “When Something Wonderful Ends.”

Sherry Kramer gets one thing right in her one-woman play, “When Something Wonderful Ends,” currently running as a selection of Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville: “We Americans are pretty arrogant.”
Kramer proves that point absolutely, having written not only a play about herself (the character is named Sherry), but also one in which she expounds on the predicament of the oil shortage in America with the authority of a foreign policy expert. Like the conceited dinner guest who doesn’t realize he’s the reason people are leaving the party early, this self-absorbed play thinks it’s engaging. In reality, it’s just plain boring.

Kramer does employ a gimmick in an effort to make this lecture interesting. She subtitles her play “a one-woman, one-Barbie play.” The premise is Kramer’s travels back to her soon-to-be-sold childhood home and her sorting through her impressive collection of Barbie paraphernalia to sell. She attempts to use Barbie as a vehicle for the vast array of lessons she wants us to learn. Additionally, a projector and screen, which feature just as prominently as the dolls, transform the usually cozy Victor Jory Theatre into a stale seminar hall.

“Wonderful” could’ve been infinitely more compelling if Kramer would’ve omitted the endless sermonizing on the oil crisis and focused on her mother and family. Instead of putting everything but the kitchen sink in the piece, she should have focused on what she knows best — her childhood and what all those Barbie dolls meant to her.

I can’t help but wonder if any actress would’ve been able to connect emotionally to this piece, because it’s obviously such an intensely and uniquely personal work. Maybe only Sherry Kramer herself could make us believe. Lori Wilner, who portrays Sherry, does not. For one thing, she doesn’t know the lines well enough. I spent the first 30 minutes feeling anxious, fearing Wilner was on the brink of losing the lines completely.
As thrilling as the prospect may be, carrying a one-person show is a definite challenge. Knowing one’s lines is the foundation upon which a character is built. Unfortunately, Wilner’s frequent struggle with them almost overshadowed all else.

Kramer’s not alone in this current inclination to speak with the assurance of an expert after reading news articles or watching a movie. Most of us are guilty. Kramer tells us where she received her information. She listened to a book on tape of the U.S.-Middle East conflict as she tackled a long drive home; she watched “Face the Nation.” As “Wonderful” shows, that’s not nearly enough to educate, and surely not enough to entertain.