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Local community theatre company Big Dawg Productions opened their newest show, Always a Bridesmaid, this week at the Ruth and Bucky Stein Theatre, a quaint black box theater on the second floor of Historic Thalian Hall in Wilmington. In all its simplicity, the comedic romp kept the audience laughing the whole night long. Runaway brides, third marriages, despicable bridesmaid dresses, a prim venue manager, and friends who stick by each other no matter what the circumstances: Always a Bridesmaid tackles every wedding cliché with hilarity and heart.
Written by the fab trio Jones, Hope, and Wooten, Always a Bridesmaid moves quickly without hardly a moment to catch your breath between chuckles. It unfolds with the feel of a classic sitcom — unsurprising, given that Jamie Wooten worked as a writer and producer on Golden Girls for many years. First-time director Jace Carlyle Berry shows a lot of promise in their work with Big Dawg. The show is blocked energetically, keeping a maniacally frenzied pace and allowing each witty retort to come across as a brisk one-two punch.
The show opens with a monologue from Kari (Emily Absher), who addresses the audience directly as though we were present at her wedding ceremony. Progressively, she gets drunk on champagne as she revels in her newlywed bliss. Absher brought a delightful sense of naïve romanticism to the role, making the audience let their guard down immediately, but also keeping them on their toes. Kari's monologues charmingly introduce the play's central themes. At one point, she jokes about the old adage that says if you want to make God laugh, then tell him your plans — Her version: "If you want to make him double-over and howl, tell him your wedding plans." The audience doubled over and howled too.
The play unfolds in four scenes distributed over two acts with a 15-minute intermission. It follows four middle-aged friends who promised each other on the night of their senior prom that they would be in each other's weddings, no matter what! And boy howdy, does this show put their promise to the test.
Monette (Tamica Katzman) is the serial wedder of the group. She's on her third wedding, a spontaneous, last-second ceremony that tests her friends' commitment to their high school oath. Katzman brought out Monette's most bodacious qualities, without ever over-playing it. At one point in the second act, she came on stage in a full-blown Marie Antoinette costume, hilariously struggling to maneuver in tight quarters given the dress' extremely exaggerated derriere.
Charlie (Erin Hunter) is the pants-wearing, tree-hugging, marriage-avoiding friend. Her decision to get married shocks and pleases her friends, who were doubtful she'd ever tie the knot. Perhaps the worst case of cold feet in the bunch, Charlie's wedding day is full of hysterical suspense, a "will-they-won't-they" for the ages! Hunter gave a wonderfully pared down performance amidst all the chaos, while still reifying Charlie's subtle sense of humor. Like Stan Laurel playing against Hardy, or Bea Arthur rolling her eyes at the other Golden Girls, Hunter is a reliable character actor who let Charlie be herself in a hectic world.
Deedra (Kari Sea) is a Washington D.C. judge and acts as the voice of unemotional logic and skepticism throughout the show. When her turn to wed approaches, she plays a fitting prank on all her friends, who have made her wear the most obnoxious bridesmaid gowns throughout the years — and now, the time for revenge has come. Kari Sea had a commanding stage presence and wore a scowl that would have made Judge Judy proud.
And then there's Libby Ruth (Emily Graham), the romantic, who forever believes in the magic of true love. Libby Ruth is the most constant, the only one who never gets married on stage, but only because she's been with her husband for her entire life. She's always there to cheer up the anxious bride or to squash beef between quarrelling friends. Graham brought sweetness and a maternal nature to the character, which made it all the more shocking when her character delivered a monologue about taking pleasure in the passenger seat of a rumbling monster truck — it was so shocking, unexpected, and hilarious that there was an applause break in the middle of the show.
While scrambling around all the hurdles of marriage, offstage brawls between ex-lovers, cold feet, runny noses, and wardrobe disputes, the four friends must also deal with the elegant Sedalia Elicott (Paula Davis), the older woman who owns and operates the venue. She offers Monette a coupon for repeat customers, snidely remarking on Monette's inability to stay married, even though she has lots of practice getting married. Davis balanced Sedalia's Southern sophistication with enough gumption and wherewithal to give the four friends a run for their money.
The set design, by Donna Troy, was superbly simple, exactly what is needed for a comedy of this sort. The environment felt natural for the characters to inhabit. However, the costumes, by Stephanie Scheu Aman and Deborah Hilll Scheu, stole the show. Each scene required three bridesmaid gowns and a new wedding dress. It's a lot of work to do such a costume-heavy show, but they pulled it off. Not only were the costumes fitting for the scene, they were fundamental to much of the show's most humorous bits.
Big Dawg Productions consistently puts on deceptively simple shows. While larger theatre companies have big budgets that enable them to throw money at any given problem, this is a luxury that community theatre companies don't have. But Big Dawg's shows don't wear their effort on their sleeve, they make it look easy, and that alone is something worthy of praise.
Always a Bridesmaid runs through Sunday April 24, 2022. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.