BWW Review: ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID: A Hilarious Trip Down the Aisle
Always a Bridesmaid is now running at the newly renovated Palace Playhouse in Georgetown,Texas through May 14th. This play is a comical journey of four friends and their high school promise to always be in each other's weddings, no matter how many times. At first glance the play reads like a chick flick movie adapted for the stage, but it was the actors' abilities that illustrated a genuine friendship and their love for each other that made this show more than a stage adaptation. With a cast of six women, Always a Bridesmaid has a simple set and stereotypical characters, but this version gives the actors the freedom to find their bond on stage.
This play is written by Jones Hope Wooten, a trio of writers also known for writing Christmas Bells, which was also performed previously by a cast from the Palace Playhouse.
This story of a "marriage-go-round" keeps the audience laughing and seeking deeper connections for the four friends and their life's challenges. It's a feel-good story with comedic points that will make you connect pieces of these women's lives to your own.
The Palace Playhouse's production of Always a Bridesmaid is well paced, fluid, and entertaining. Directed by Jessie Drollette, who has traded in her blacks from behind the scenes and took on a great challenge with the space and script. Newly remodeled, the Palace Playhouse has a black box theater feel, having seating on three sides of the stage in riser format. The ground level is the stage, with some chairs for the audience. The seating on the stage makes the play's space smaller and may be too up close and personal for some audience members. Being on the first level of the risers (as I was) was a better vantage point for those viewers who do not want to be in the action but rather watching it. Ms. Drollette did an excellent job both casting the show and bringing it to full production. She uses the space of the black box thoughtfully. The dynamic of the four best friends is balanced between spacing and characterization. Ms. Drollette took a good script and turned it into a fluid production. The minimalist set and lighting (designed by Ron Watson) enhance Ms. Drollette's vision and the direction of her actors. The fluctuating relationships of the four women is evident in their direction and one can feel the natural friendships between the actors. Many times I found myself looking into the eyes of the actors due to the size of the space, but their glance never invited me into the scene, as they kept themselves professionally in their roles.
Mr. Watson's ability to design a set that is timeless and can span years of trend changes is something important for this show, and was well executed. The pools of light from each side exit of the stage served as a mirror or entrance into the main room where the play takes place. Although simplistic, the audience could tell, due to the lighting, that one area was a wall with a mirror, with direct light shining on the actress's faces, and the darkness of the other exit serving as the hallway to the room. A show with only two locations is a challenge when planning for fluidity but they certainly made it happen. Black box spaces are difficult to light without the entire audience's faces also being illuminated. This show faced the same situation. I could look around and see the entire audience through the course of the show, most times as a distraction. The trick with lighting a black box theater is melting the audience away and keeping the focus on the stage, unfortunately this is not always achieved in Always a Bridesmaid.
The opening video showed the cast and crew in their own former wedding photos was very charming. The audience members would have benefitted from a visual cue to pay attention to the video which was in the middle of the stage. With the generation of cellphone users, I noticed many audience members still in conversation therefore missing half of the video at the top of the performance. Thus making the video introduction a great concept, but not executed fully. The removal of the video projection is also disjointed and distracting, pulling the audience away from the world they are about the enter, rather than pulling them into the story and the characters. The curtain speech pulls the audience back into the story, it is not often that you see someone from the cast saying the speech, and this is certainly the perfect time to do it.
Each of the actresses in Always a Bridesmaid brought a special pizzazz to the stage. Victoria Wallin (as Kari Ames) is a youthful breath of fresh air, pulling the story back to the present time after each scene. Ms. Wallin's physically embodies the southern charm school newly married wife wonderfully. Although at one point, I felt like she was reaching for the next line and dropped her character for an instant, I was laughing along with her, remembering weddings I have attended with very similar brides. Nikki Bora (as Sedalia Ellicot) is a veteran of the Palace productions and her ability to command a stage certainly shows. Ms. Borra brings the true southern charm as the Laurelton Oaks wedding coordinator, with the sneaky, sassy personality that will keep you laughing in every entrance. Ms. Bora's thick southern accent at some points is harder to understand but fit with the Texas lady character that she brings to life. Costumed by Ellen Simms, Nikki Bora is always dressed to a T from head to toe, with no detail spared.
The story revolves around four friends that stick by each other through thick and thin, for better or for worse, and through current husband or current divorces. The four friends consist of Rachel Middleton Britain (as Monette Gentry), Corinna Browning (as Charlie Collins), Ebony Morningstar (as Deedra Wingate), and Linda Myers (as Libby Ruth Ames). At first look, these women could not have graduated the same year. The timeline is based on the pact the women made to each other in high school however it is hard to visually believe they were all graduates concurrently. Linda Myers, although a great southern belle, is older than the other three women. The role of Libby Ruth Ames (Ms. Myers) is well-suited as the hopeless romantic of the bunch. She plays the motherly figure to the other girls and fills her role well even though there are moments when one could forget she was one of the girls and not the mother-of-the-bride. I won't give away the end of the story but Ms. Myers certainly was the right choice of the four to play Libby Ruth. Her personal maternal instincts kicked in with this role enhancing her ability to connect with her friends and lifelong partners in crime. Corinna Browning is a newcomer to the Palace stage and is a delight to watch as the crunchy granola, anti-romantic friend. Ms. Browning attacks the character with full force from head to toe. The extension of her energy emanates through the building. Although her home base on stage seemed to be the chaise, which means her back is to the center section in most of her scenes, Ms. Browning's energy never drops on stage. Her vocal variety and ability to facially express her emotions are valuable for the black box space.
Bringing in a sassy, dynamic to the group is Ebony Morningstar. Entering later in the first act, Mrs. Morningstar is the sophisticated, wise- cracking friend that isn't afraid to tell it how she sees it. Mrs. Morningstar is committed to the character and her journey through the show is evident, not just from her lines but by her posture changes. She uses her body well to tell a story and at some points getting screechy vocally. I very much so enjoyed watching the transformation of Deedra throughout the course of the show. Brass, over the top, and strutting her way onto the Palace Playhouse stage is Rachel Middleton Britain. As the character of Monette, Rachel doesn't hold back giving her opinion whenever she wants to with no regard for repercussions. Rachel certainly reads as the youngest on stage of the four women. as The Manipulative woman that pretends she's younger, her age and the role are congruent . Again kudos to Ms. Drollette in casting. Mrs. Britain has spunk and physicality to keep the audience laughing.
Overall, the play is entertaining, not a perfect production but where can perfection lie when you have six crazy ladies fight to get down to the altar. The book leads the comedy but this group of actresses certainly bring the tale to life. The pacing makes the show fly by and keeps the audiences engaged. With excellent costume creation by Ellen Simms, the women's attire enhances their humor and brings color to the simple set. Although some of the emotions feel forced between the ladies, mock fighting with each other was the most obvious and not fully connected, the ladies certainly brought their hearts to the stage. I hope to see more from these actresses in the future on the stage, as well as more productions directed by Jessie Drollette.
If you want a fun night out with the girls, or a date night with your sweetheart, go see Always a Bridesmaid at The Palace Playhouse. The show runs April 21st to May 14th. More information and tickets at http://www.georgetownpalace.com/