July 29--WELLFLEET -- Weddings are popular fodder for comedy -- emotions and expectations are heightened, family members are thrown together under pressure, and there is much room for drama and confrontations in the quest for a perfect day.
Grammy Award-winning comedian Lewis Black waded into that potential maelstrom of angst with his "One Slight Hitch" script, and he and director Joe Grifasi at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater give us door-slamming, drink-guzzling farce, plus eventual soul-searching, in the last couple of (very full) hours before a backyard wedding.
I'm not overly familiar with social critic Black's stand-up comedy style, most often seen on Comedy Central and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," but I know profanity-laced, angry rants can be involved. Walk away from that image: "One Slight Hitch," which Black originally wrote in the 1981 period in which the goings-on are set, is much closer to classic, tamer sitcom style. This play -- which brings Grifasi and half the cast to WHAT from a production last summer in New Jersey -- gives us one-liners, crazy takes on real-life situations and family life with a kooky spin.
Surrounded by the wedding frenzy is besieged dad Doc Coleman, played with spot-on timing and one-liner delivery by Mark Linn-Baker. The appealing Broadway actor, a longtime friend of Black's, honed his straight-man abilities on eight seasons of ABC's "Perfect Strangers" and as drunken Peter O'Toole's chaperone in the 1982 film "My Favorite Year." Linn-Baker's Doc is the dad outnumbered daily by wife and three daughters, the on-the-edge guy who tries to assert calm as his daughters and the times change around him and who seeks solace in a fishing rod and a fully stocked bar when needed.
His own bride is played by Broadway veteran Lizbeth Mackay as a mother who has longed to plan a big wedding after her own post-World War II ceremony was less than magazine-ready. Mackay is a skilled comedian, but her Delia starts out so anxious about wedding details that her emotional arc doesn't have far to go to get to full-on hysteria and drug-induced delirium. She certainly gets a cardio workout every night, though, from the number of times she races up the staircase that dominates the back of Robert A. Dahlstrom's realistic middle-class living-room set.
No wonder Doc and his daughters try to keep the worst disasters a secret from her: Much of Act 1 is spent in a comic ballet of trying to hide bride Courtney's former boyfriend Ryan (played with doofus charm by Christopher Tocco). He obliviously arrives for a visit not knowing about the wedding plans, then proceeds to get mistakenly trapped with most of his clothes off -- this is a farce, after all. Doc, lascivious smart-aleck sister Melanie (Brenda Meaney) and teenage spitfire P.B. (Laura Ashley Carter) try to keep him out of sight of Delia and the bride even while Melanie tries seduction at the same time.
Carter immediately endears her P.B. to the audience with a wild dance to "Bette Davis Eyes" on her Walkman in the first scene, and her dancing and music become a welcome running gag. She's also the narrator of the piece, who at the outset explains the 1981 timing and just how this era for women affects the bride.
Dakota Shepard's Courtney has found a stable, polite husband-to-be (Thomas Preece), who couldn't be more different than the free-spirit dreamer she left behind. A WHAT press release compares "One Slight Hitch," to "The Philadelphia Story," but Tocco's Ryan is no suave, canny Cary Grant as C.K. Dexter Haven, and Black's play -- which can be pretty predictable at various points -- is better for not trying to make Ryan that way.
"One Slight Hitch" is less edgy, more family-comedy fare than one might usually expect of both Black and WHAT, but the partnership seems fruitful. Fans can enjoy the more typical Black style in an already-sold-out fundraiser Tuesday night, then on Aug. 6 is "UnHitched Cabaret!" Cast to star in what is promised to be an unpredictable evening of improv, comedy and music will be Linn-Baker, director Grifasi (who has dozens of acting credits on film, TV and stage) and guests, including Broadway actress Christa Justus (Linn-Baker's wife) and some "surprises."
(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)
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