The Wedding Party serves up laughter with style - Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto
The Wedding Party serves up laughter with style 09 January 2017
by Drew Rowsome - Production photos by Guntar Kravis
Is there anything more unpleasant than being a wedding guest? Fortunately there are few things more entertaining than being a guest at The Wedding Party.
Weddings are cash-grabs or ego-trips that are full of drunken debauchery, the airing of family grievances, and endless pressure to make it the event of a lifetime. Not conducive to a good time, but a goldmine for theatrical vivisection: all the horror and comedy are hellish to be part of, but a lot of fun to watch. As The Wedding Party escalates from farce to a maelstrom of mirthful mayhem, so do the laughs. (Though the program should have a trigger warning, while everyone is thinking that, "Thank goddess these aren't my relatives," there are also remembering or foreshadowing ways in which their families are similar. Or worse.)
The Wedding Party was conceived for, aside from the desire to put on an entertaining show, two rather practical reasons. Streetcar Crowsnest was built not only as a home for Crow's Theatre, but also as an event venue. Therefore the opening show was to not only showcase the theatre and company, but also the versatility of the space. This it does with opulent nonchalance and if it were an actual wedding, it would be worthy of an advertising spread in a bridal magazine.
The other conception imperative was to showcase just what Crow's Theatre can do. This succeeds even more admirably, the technical precision of the actors is astonishing, as is the depths of characterization that they manage to create in the midst of what could easily have become a stunt. Each actor plays multiple characters - from nameless waiters to outsized family members to guests from eighteen to eighty - seamlessly and rapidly switching genders and costumes and even species to populate an entire wedding reception using only five actors.
Of course they can't resist the urge to show off and in fact that is integral to the comedy. There is no fourth wall and bravura stunts alternate with arch one-liners to remind us just what a marvel we are witnessing. Fortunately it is all hilarious and because we are aware of the theatricality, we are free to laugh at the foibles, mishaps and tragedy without having any slapstick guilt. Even a prop malfunction gets stirred into the general madness with a wink and a giggle. And never underestimate the joy to be found in watching talented actors at the top of their form strutting their stuff and nailing high note, pirouette or gag, with pride and insouciance.
Everyone has many opportunities to shine and even the smallest characters have been precisely delineated, Maya O'Connell exits stage right as the rich bitch sexually frustrated mother of the groom, limps across the stage from stage left as a waiter who can't quite keep up, races through as the best man who is a professional student not-so-secretly in love with the groom but nurturing an affair with his father, and then reappearing as Vlad the butch and bearded circus performer. Everyone is in constant motion and the controlled chaos backstage with all the lightning quick costume/character changes must be a spectacular show of its own.
Other highlights include Tom Rooney's twins of very different temperaments but identical visages just slightly upstaged by his lascivious and statuesque sister of the bride. Virgilia Griffith (They Say He Fell) and Trish Lindstrom have a multitude of rapid fire characterizations that at first appear comic but build cumulatively to become the central theme and emotional denouement. Lindestrom's budding artist manchild is particularly touching. Jason Cadieux (King Lear) makes the grandmother of the bride a sacré monstre who is a sheer delight far beyond the inherent comedy in a leading man crossdressing. Cadieux has previously, particularly when working with Sky Gilbert, shown a range that exceeds his looks, but this horny widow with an attitude has to be a new benchmark.
The biggest, broadest moments go to Jane Spidell as the mother of the bride (unfortunately all the photos provided are from the previous production where the roles were played by the playwright Kristen Thomson). A pitch-perfect rapidly-intoxicating mess, Spidell shoulders the central dissection of class differences without ever being less than awe-inspiring, frightening and hilarious. She also plays the family dog which is crowd-pleasing and supremely silly, until it goes a step too far when the dog is given lines to stall for time. There is one other mis-step where the conceit of a shattered fourth wall goes awry: Rooney's twins have actual dialogues that are inventively achieved and hysterical in creation as well as content, but then Rooney is tasked with being a Daniel MacIvor/Lily Tomlin by switching between characters before our eyes. The actor is up to the task (and the fight scene is uproarious) but alas the play isn't, and the climax being meticulously built towards, stumbles before being salvaged by Rooney's drag turn.
There are more laughs in The Wedding Party than a dozen other comedies or a night at a comedy club. They manage to have it both ways, the play itself is a clever construction, the invitation to witness how it is, against the odds, accomplished, is irresistible and generates riotous uncontrollable laughter. Best of all this is the first, whether drama or comedy, wedding depiction that I have seen, that hasn't hinged on the shocking or mocking revelation of homosexuality. The heterosexuals are ridiculous and comic enough on their own. And the drag turns hinge on the skill they have taken to incarnate, not on gender fears. Not to wish the newlyweds ill, but I would gladly return to participate in their future nuptial events or, more happily, a renewal of their vows.
The Wedding Party continues until Sat, Jan 20 at Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Ave. crowstheatre.com