Ideas in Need of Passion

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theatre for KCRW.

poster.jpgWhat is love? Really? Is it a rush of the heartbeat? Is it the dedication to a child? These are the questions in Mr. Goodspeed's AP Biology class in playwright Cody Henderson's world-premiere Wonderlust at Theater of Note.

Mr. Goodspeed is the 'cool' teacher. You know, the one who actually cares about his students and teaches. Unlike Mr. Parsons, the government teacher, who's filling the last two weeks of school with 'free time,' pizza, and in-class movies, Mr. Goodspeed has decided to devote class time to love -- not carnal love, at least not intentionally, but familial love, the way a mother bonds with a newborn. It's his personal fascination because Mr. Goodspeed just got dumped by his beautiful wife. It broke his heart, literally, he's wearing a heart monitor. So like any good teacher he feels a "teachable moment."

The kids, we're told, love it. Except for Sharon, one of Mr. Goodspeed's star students, who suddenly has no passion for school. In fact, she's sort of lost like Mr. Goodspeed and come to think of it Mr. Parsons who hasn't cared about teaching for years. They all are craving inspiration, passion, connection.

Suddenly, and sort of inexplicably, in walks Congressman Wilson who's got a faith-based teaching initiative that he'd like to push and thinks that maybe, just maybe, Mr. Goodspeed is really teaching God. 'Cause after all God is love, right? That's what 80 percent of Congressman Wilson's constituents believe. Oh, and did I mention that all the kids are coupling up and getting really promiscuous during Mr. Parson's in-class movies?

Sounds like a lot doesn't it? Well, it is and frankly we're barely to the end of Act One.

What's wonderful about Cody Henderson's new play is its striving. Henderson clearly loves science and ideas and wants to tackle the big questions. The trouble is in Wonderlust his reach exceeds his grasp. While he creates the circumstances to pose the questions, he hasn't found the underlying structure or drive to spur his characters to action. The play, like this review, spends a lot of time setting the stage and explaining things. It's a play of ideas -- but ideas are hard to stage without defaulting to cliche and rhetorical debate.

Wonderlust falls victim to both at times. Mr. Parson's becomes the cliché, passionless, donut-eating high school teacher who keeps threatening Sharon, "I'll take you down," as if he's channeling Dick Vernon from The Breakfast Club. Mr. Goodspeed, is the stereotypical, if all too rare, passionate teacher who wants to make a difference. But as a protagonist he's a little too passive. He doesn't fight for his wife or his job.

Ironically, it's our faith-based villain, Congressman Trip Wilson, who has the most passion and the most compelling narrative. Henderson's play comes closest to its lofty goal when the congressman and the teacher begin to argue science versus religion. But it's taken most of the plays two hours and twenty minutes to get there.

"Wonderlust" plays at Theater of Note in Hollywood through October 1.

For info on the show text the word "curtain" to 69866 and join the conversation at

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theatre for KCRW.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Banner image: Darrett Sanders