BWW Review: ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID at the SWIFT CREEK MILL THEATRE: Situational Fun with Laughs and Heart
Permit me to indulge a bit...
Before sitting down to partake in this oftentimes riotous spectacle of scheming ladies brandishing just about everything from flutes of rapidly dissipating champagne to unflattering footwear to heavy axes to - not least of all - some of the most deliberately ludicrous dresses one would be hard-pressed to find under the banner a single show, I was beside myself with guffaws as well as a twinge of wistful reminiscence.
One of my first theatrical experiences (as a spectator) was sitting in the front row for the Mill's production of ME AND MY GIRL twenty-some odd years ago. No more than a toddler, it was a particularly memorable show for me; I can still vividly recall the cast gently playing musical spoons on our knees, my very first (non-familial) kiss on the cheek from a pretty lady in the show's company, and that of my paternal grandparents seated next to me.
Long since departed, these two gentle souls of Petersburg were not exactly what I would classify to be "theatre people." They were cultured, sure, but also reserved and somewhat soft-spoken. Thence, they were a bit particular about their choices in entertainment. To be clear: they saw shows that told an entertaining story with a distinct beginning, middle and end with likable characters peppered throughout (my father has carried on this preference). They also favored that the humor and content be manageably tame by older, more traditional standards.
More to the point: they both loved the "feel good," audience-pleasing shows at the Mill for decades. And under the continued direction of Tom Width, ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID fits into that jovial category - and all of the aforementioned prerequisites - in spades.
The story itself is fluffy and simple by design: stretched across multiple weddings over multiple years, this play takes six heroines through a series of crazy predicaments all before the bride - whoever it happens to be at any given year - walks down the aisle.
At the play's core are four friends who, going on thirty years since the night of their senior prom, took a vow to process as bridesmaids at each of their weddings (even if successive husbands happened to fall into the varied arrangements).
The roles of these friends - and that of the wedding planner - are assumed by five of the most entrancing pillars of the Richmond Theatre Community in its vibrant and captivating longevity.
Jody Smith Strickler plays Sedalia, the stringent wedding planner, with matronly pizzazz. With the entire action taking place mere minutes before a ceremony within the confines of the ladies' sitting room of the historic Laurelton Oaks estate in Laurelton, Virginia (not far from Richmond), Sedalia just can't seem to escape from the precarious goings-on of these four erratic friends. Jacqueline Jones plays Libby Ruth, the eternal optimist of said cadre, with a cheery calm counterbalanced against the demeanor of her two more pessimistic friends: Charlie (Jenny Hundley) and Deedra (Debra Wagoner). Deedra, though at times tense and unsure of herself, is sophisticated, graceful and poised. Charlie, on the other hand, with a deep southern drawl and lackadaisical posture, is anything but. Both Wagoner and Hundley assume their roles with acute fastidiousness to their cascading levels of emotion, ranging from contentment to that of outright panic. Completing this motley posse is Monette: the "hot to trot" go-getter with the confidence of two or more women. Amy Berlin exudes pride and determination with her role - atop some very high heels in the process!
Last but certainly not least to round out the cast is Rachel Hindman as Kari, Libby Ruth's daughter. A relative newcomer to the Richmond stage (she makes her main stage Mill debut with this show), Hindman continues to disappear into any role she graces with her prowess. Here she plays a recently-hitched bride who, through a series of asides, regales her reception guests with anecdotes and bromides with a microphone in one hand and a glass (or two) of champagne in the other. She's fantastically funny.
The whole set up is just funny with ease! This is, indeed, a "situation comedy" on stage: a time-honored artform loved by countless fans. Heck, I grew up watching sitcoms! From the more male-leaning shows like "Coach" to the female-centered programs like "Designing Women": if the show was funny, I kept watching it.
And ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID provides that exact same service live and in person.
Some of the more eye-catching technical components to this show include an opulent set design by Tom Width and, again, some wild costumes by Maura Lynch Cravey.
The play itself is written by three of the most popular playwrights working today: "America's Playwrights" Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten (Mr. Wooten, in particular, is an alumnus of the writing staff of "The Golden Girls"). Whether through this play or by way of their other works such as THE SAVANNAH SIPPING SOCIETY (which will open late next season at the Mill), this trio continues to delight the masses in their stories of differently-tempered (and fast-quipping) women who might not be as young as they used to be, but they're never too old to leave the smiling audience with a grateful impression.
This certainly would've been the case with my grandparents.
ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID plays through June the 20th, 2018, at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre.