“You can’t always get what you want:” The Rolling Stones’ peerless song could be the sub-title of Matthew López’s play, “Zoey’s Perfect Wedding,” directed by Rob Ruggiero at TheaterWorks through June 5. Not only does the phrase apply to all the characters, but sadly, it applies to the audience, too. This East Coast Premiere falls short of giving us what we want (a buoyant, if biting, comedy), and it also fails to give us “what [we] need”: a play that also says something original.
The set-up reminds us immediately that we have been here before, both in life and in the theatre. The play takes place in 2008, at the eponymous bride’s wedding reception in the Downtown Brooklyn Marriott hotel. As the word “perfect” indicates, this is the reception where everything goes wrong: the three guests we meet scorn the Marriot, hate their table, quickly get as drunk as possible, and snipe about topics such as the importance, or not, of monogamy in a committed relationship, the mechanics of male gay sex, and, in the case of Rachel (Blair Lewin), the bizarre fact that her best friend Zoey didn’t ask her to be in the wedding. This group also goes after the general tackiness of everything concerning the bride, the groom (whom we never meet, for unknown reasons), and the awful music, provided by a DJ who chooses to play his own greatest hits in place of the bride’s requested playlist.
The groom’s family is from Arkansas, and thus is, of course, the easiest of targets; the bride’s family is Jewish, and they fare only marginally better in this conversation of cheap shots. Some of López’s more outrageous dialogue is amusing, but mostly we wish we were sitting at a table far, far away—especially when a very drunk Rachel goes into a long monologue, disguised as a “toast,” about how weddings are the easy part, but marriage is a long and difficult haul. How many times has any adult heard this before?
Unfortunately, Rachel B. Joyce is mis-directed as Zoey: she has been asked to cross the line between amusingly kooky and irritating. In most cases, though, the acting almost rises above the well-worn material. Esteban Carmona, as the DJ, is sweetly relaxed, even under fire—a nice break from all the angst. Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, as the openly gay Sammy, is genuinely funny and for a few moments towards the end, genuinely touching. Stephen Stocking, who in the performance I attended, played Rachel’s beaten down husband, Charlie, doesn’t have much stage time but makes Charlie the most sympathetic of the group. And Hallie Eliza Friedman is completely convincing, if appropriately annoying, as Missy, the wedding planner who puts the term “planner” in heavy, heavy quotation marks.
As Rachel, Blair Lewin has an almost impossible task, since Rachel, a professional wedding planner herself, does much of the criticizing and must speak López’s most clichéd lines. However, Lewin is marvelously charismatic and able to show, throughout, the pain hovering under every word. Rachel’s arc is not new, but Lewin makes it poignant.
As is almost always the case with TheaterWorks, the production values are superb. Brian Sidney Bembridge has created a set that surrounds the audience, so we too are in the Marriot Hotel reception room, and between hisset and lighting design, he manages to make something at once believably tacky and beautiful. Harry Nadal’s costumes are on point for every character,
helping each personality shine. Ruggiero has allowed Melanie Chen Cole’s sound design to overpower what is happening onstage, but she certainly has put thought and expertise into her work.
I understand the wish to bring some lightness into our difficult times, but it’s puzzling that TheaterWorks keeps producing the relatively insubstantial works of Matthew López. When his plays are good—e.g., “The Whipping Man”—they are remarkable. However, if a theatre wants a terrific comedy, there are so many others to choose from that truly marry, excuse the pun,
laughter and depth. “Zoey’s Perfect Wedding” continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through June 5. For further information, call the box office at: 860.527.7838 or visit: