Theater review: Always a Bridesmaid at Flat Rock Playhouse
Edwin: Flat Rock Playhouse’s new comedy Always a Bridesmaid is a lot of fun, at least on the surface. Written by Jamie Wooten, Jessie Jones and Nicholas Hope — the team behind the theater’s 2017 hit production of The Dixie Swim Club — the play follows four close-knit women who make good on a promise to participate in each other’s weddings. Navigating their nuptial adventures over the years, I laughed at pretty much every place the material strived for such a response yet left wanting to like it more overall than I did. How did it work for you?
Bruce: I felt like I got what I came for. After the sugar high of Mamma Mia! last month, it was fun to reunite with that show’s Rosie and Tanya — Tauren Hagans and Angie Schworer — and four other game actresses for more wedding-related shenanigans — and even a touch of ABBA! It was sort of like when you watch a beloved movie on DVD and then devour the deleted scenes to stay immersed in the experience. The DVD extras may not provide quite the high of the main event, but they’ll keep you smiling. With some 20 comedies to their credit, the Jones Hope Wooten team knows how to keep the laughs coming. I bet you’ve never had so many chuckles at just the outrageous costumes.
Edwin: Costume designer Ashli Arnold Crump certainly milks that wedding staple to maximum effect! Other than wedding speech asides from Kari (Emily Fink, aka Sophie from Mamma Mia!) before each new scene, the entirety of the action is set in the same dressing room of a rural Virginia event center where all their ceremonies occur. So it’s only natural that we witness the usual pre-marriage jitters, traditions and necessities. It’s also apparently the only times the friends see each other every few years, though each reunion economically brings them up to speed on their interim activities.
Bruce: The setup is very similar to The DIxie Swim Club, but while Swim Club achieved geniune poignancy, Bridesmaid is pretty much pure comedy. The difference in the shows is expressed even in the sets: Swim Club was a hyperreal beach house, while Sandra Lopez’s set for Bridesmaid (strategically lit by C.J. Barnwell) has lovely surreal touches, with sections of wall transparent or blacked out. I liked it a lot. It lightened up what otherwise might have been an oppressive setting and reminded us we’re not entirely moored to reality.
Edwin: I don’t feel like the set heightened the proceedings all that much but did find it consistently pleasing to the eye. Against this detailed backdrop, director Scott Treadway keeps the core four women in regular motion, nicely serving the active dialogue and big personalities. As Deedra and Monette, respectively, Hagans and Schworer build on their Mamma Mia! chemistry through characters fairly similar to their previous ones. Marci Reid’s independent Charlie may be the most complex and well-written of the bunch, and all three’s quirks contrast well with the largely drama-free Libby Ruth (Aleisha Force).
Bruce: Force gives one of the show's best performances in part because she has to stay grounded, as the group's successful monogamist. Reid, on the other hand, plays the (mostly) bachelorette Charlie through a number of switchbacks, although I loved her consistent awkwardness in anything resembling a dress. Then there's Janie Bushway as Sedalia, the eccentric owner of the wedding venue, who's hilariously bossy and unpredictable.
Edwin: I kept thinking a sneaky move Sedalia makes in the first scene would prove more consequential to the larger story, but like most decisions in Bridesmaid, it’s good for a laugh and quickly gets out of the way for the next set-up and punchline. Perhaps the tonal effervescence is part of what limits its impact for me beyond the steady smiles. There’s a cumulative power to the women’s friendship and these shared experiences, but minimal reflection on its significance or much thought to whether they’d like to get together more often.
Bruce: There is less attention to the richness of the offstage stories than there was in Swim Club, which made me wonder whether the Jones Hope Wooten team consciously aims their various shows at different weights, from fluff to heavy emotion, or whether they just plow ahead and see how it goes. I'd peg this one as a middleweight — more than fluff, but easy on the tearducts.
Edwin: That sounds like a logical approach and assessment. There’s certainly value in the reflections on one’s own longterm relationships that Bridesmaid is likely to inspire for both women and men in the audience, which also seemed very much on board with the play’s particular brand of humor on opening night.
Bruce: That’s very true. Reflecting the audience’s shared experiences back in a kind of funhouse mirror way is what makes these shows a hoot. Like Mamma Mia!, Bridesmaid expects us to see parts of ourselves onstage. Alas, there’s less singing along — unless you want to join in on the bluegrass version of Beyonce's "All the Single Ladies" between the scenes. I’m good with that.
Always a Bridesmaid runs Wednesday-Sunday through Sept. 9. For showtimes and tickets, visit www.flatrockplayhouse.org.
(Photos by Treadshots, courtesy of Flat Rock Playhouse)