Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Theater review: Grab your camo and shotgun for The Wedding From Hell
Prepare to enter The Redneck Zone.
CLEBURNE The Wedding from Hell, according to one of the playwrights, is inspired by a wedding several years ago in which she played the piano. This inspiration is described on the playbill as "A Farce in Two Acts about a redneck wedding and includes many situations that can be found in stereotypical trailer trash type weddings, having the potential to be very funny." Some of those include camouflage-themed wedding gowns and tuxes — pink for the girls and traditional camo for the guys — wedding songs gone wrong, a father of the bride “going all shotgun” to make sure the wedding happens, Cheez Whiz on the menu at the wedding reception, numerous references to houses on wheels, and even an appearance by Elvis.
For Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players’ production of this play, I was met at the house door by ushers dressed in brown, leaf-print camouflaged, sleeveless jackets asking if I was there for support of the bride or the groom. After declaring that I was there for both, I was ushered to a seat in the middle of the auditorium as the first two rows were reserved for the wedding party. The auditorium was partially filled by a largely local audience of various ages, who like me, were anticipating an evening of laughter and smiles as we prepared to watch the fictional wedding nuptials and joining of the families Miller and Light. Could Miller and Light be a match made in heaven or will it be The Wedding From Hell?
Sitting in the middle of the auditorium awaiting the opening of the performance, I watched the families of the bride and groom and other members of the wedding party talking and interacting as they walk around the stage and other areas of the auditorium. The grand drapes were open, people were walking around the stage having conversations and interacting while placing flowers and other wedding decorations on the stage. A painted drop was located at the back of the stage showing what looked like the scene of a town.
While all this was happening, there did not appear to be any theatrical lighting on stage or spotlights on the characters, and the house lights were on 15 minutes later, I realized that there was not going to be a definite beginning to this production and what I was experiencing and watching was part of the show in progress. The longer I watched, the more convinced I became that I was, in fact, watching the actual production.
According to the playbill, this is the directing debut for Beth Wygant. The directing style for this particular play is a very informal presentation. The show is billed as a farce and I took that into consideration as I watched the performance and tried to make sense out of what was happening on and off the stage, something that can be challenging with a farce. The house lights stay on throughout the performance, and during most of the performance there seems to be little structured blocking, memorized lines or cohesion to the telling of the story. In several scenes throughout the show dialogue between the actors seems improvised with topics of discussion rather than memorized lines. That is until someone drops a line and the conversation starts over. Actors wander around the front of the stage and onstage as if they were at a loosely-structured rehearsal rather than at a performance. The randomness in which the characters interact appear on stage, disappear or simply do not show up makes the production difficult in which to connect. This is after all, a farce.
Andy Newby is included in the playbill for the sound design. There are no special sound effects. But everyone in the production could easily be heard by the audience.
The costuming by Mackenzie Oillow is one of the highlights of this production. Under Oillow’s costuming direction, this production uses copious stereotypical clothing selections, including camouflage, polyester lime green jacket and plaid suits, full western cowboy outfit, red pants and hat for the male wedding planner, tiaras, wedding dress without shoes, lots of chiffon, and a hairstyle that lights up. Make up for the girls and women ranged from none to Goth and overdo.
Emily Rollen as Sunny Dee Miller, the Bride, presents a character that typifies a “bridezilla.” Wearing a white wedding dress, sunglasses and no shoes, Rollen stomps her foot and alternately bullies, pouts and charms her way into a very believable role of a bride doing everything that she can to get her way and to the man that she wants. Rollen’s actions and characteristics in this role remind me of every diva bride and bridezilla I have seen in movies and television.
Barry Swindall as Bud Miller, the Father of the Bride, is almost the perfect caricature of a cowboy father that will have his daughter wed. He struts commandingly around the stage in the full cowboy attire that includes vest, boots and even a pistol slung on his hip. He often uses his stout physical size and/or his weapons to intimidate any who dare to try to put a halt to his little girl’s wedding.
Tonya Laree as Merlotta Miller, the Mother of the Bride, is fun to watch. Her previous experience on stage, television and feature films is obvious as she fully embraces all of this character. Her exaggerated gestures and delivery at the wedding are perfect. The way Laree embraces and becomes Merlotta is a pleasure to watch. I would like to see more of her acting.
Juan Crespo as Junior, the Blind Brother of the Bride, provides some of the nonsensical comic relief as he repeatedly wanders toward the front edge of the stage, only to be turned aside by someone at the last possible second. Watching him as he approaches the edge, I could not see any indication or anticipation of the change or potential fall.
By the way she dressed, spoke or gestured, Robin Levac as Sisiter Ima-Pearl the Pastor’s Wife, reminds me of many a pastor’s wife I have met over the years in small towns. Her constant reference to bible studies and deference to her husband the Reverend, had me convinced she is at least familiar enough with the stereotypical role of a small towns pastor’s wife to make the character convincing. Her hair is stacked about two feet high and laced with what looks like Christmas lights. It is bizarre but it works for this character.
Jason Callahan as Dash La Rue, Wedding Planner, is absolutely delightful to watch. Callahan’s deadpan delivery approach to the various situations increases the comedy in the scenes. Always walking around on stage with a purpose, Callahan’s approach to La Rue reminds me of Buster Keaton in his later films. His scenes with Marcia Kay Allison as Assistant to Dash demonstrate the connection and timing each actor has that enables their respective characters to be funny individually and as a team.
Alan Meadows as Elrod “Bubba” Jones almost steals the show with his high level of hilarious energy and his commitment to his character. Meadows embodies Bubba, from the choice of costume with suspenders, long hair and beard to his character’s persona. Jones plays Bubba loud, somewhat ignorant and naïve and always funny.
In theater, a farce is described as a comedy that is intended to entertain the audience through situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant, and improbable. With a large number of plot twists and random events, viewers are encouraged to not try to follow the plot twists as they would in realistic plays. Farces are also characterized by physical humor and the deliberate use of nonsense and the absurd. This show succeeds in meeting the definition of a farce. The costuming is really good and will have you believing you have entered “The Redneck Zone.” The acting is mixed with some actors who did not seem to know their lines or blocking and several actors who were so good they brought and kept you in the story as it rolled bizarrely along.
A good production and a bad production are, of course subjective, but for me the direction for The Wedding From Hell at GCCP is much too confusing in the way the plots and subplots are presented. Incorporating the audience by using the front two rows for actors who then interact with members of the audience, as well as leaving the house lights on for the production, causes a disconnect with the play, making me not enjoy it very much. I will note that at the conclusion of the show, when the actors came out into the house, several of the audience members made sure to congratulate the actors and tell them what a good show it was.
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