Alberta Theatre Projects has opened their 2019/2020 season with a hilarious comedy that reminds us: we don’t always have to like our family even if we love them. Written by Kristen Thomson (I, Claudia) and directed by Darcy Evans, The Wedding Party is one not to be missed.
Jack Jr and Sherry are married but their union has brought together two families who couldn’t get along if they tried – and they aren’t trying. With bitter twins, a drunk mother of the bride, a wandering Groom’s father, and a little bit of magic, this two-act comedy certainly keeps you busy. Six actors take on multiple characters, changing costumes and personalities in the blink of an eye as the frantic coordinator tries to keep everything on schedule. The Martha Cohen Theatre has stripped its orchestra section in favour of cocktail tables and white linen to make (part of) the audience a part of the show. Two of the show’s actual crew dress up as waiters to help out and give the entire theatre an immersive feeling of being in the most uncomfortable wedding reception ever.
The set design by David Fraser was perfect for the show. A million (5) doors, a beautiful wooden floor, and a seamless transition into the audience felt like a wedding reception in a grand ballroom. From my seat up in the balcony, I wanted to be the unruly child making a game out of throwing things onto the tables below (of course I didn’t), but they achieved that immersive feelings while still keeping a very open space in which the actors could play. And to play in, Patrick Du Wors designed over a dozen costumes for the actors to slip in an out of at a moment’s notice. Even knowing that some of those costumes had to be mostly Velcro, magnets, zippers or some unholy combination of all three, I rarely noticed. They looked like costumes they had always been wearing. But some of those costume changes, along with hair and props, were astoundingly fast and I wanted to applaud the precision of the actors and crew working to making those seamless transitions.
Because all of the actors are playing multiple characters, they were given the title of Actors A through F. The cast featured an entirely Albertan (if not Calgarian) ensemble of actors from seasoned and well known to newer faces making their mark on the Calgary stage.
A problem lots of big ensemble/character shows have is not having the time or ability to establish all of the characters in a lot of detail. Some of these characters, we only get to see once or twice and in their few lines, we need to understand them and why they’re included in this comedy. Did I always understand? No. But I enjoyed trying to figure it out with the audience.
Christopher Hunt played Actor A which included Jack Sr., his twin brother Tony, Janice (the bride’s sister), and the mysterious Magician. I’ve never seen a performance from Hunt that I didn’t enjoy. He has a great sense of comedic timing and takes his characters very seriously – if the characters aren’t serious. When Jack and Tony finally meet on stage, I nearly fell out of my seat.
Helen Knight played Actor B, including Margaret (the Groom’s mother), Vlad (the bride’s half-brother), Alice (the best man), and the Magicians Assistant. Though certainly not new to the Calgary stage, I first saw Knight in Kate Hennig’s The Last Wife and fell in love with her dry humor and realistic drama. I loved seeing different sides to Knight with the different characters taking on very distinct personalities and accents.
Kristen Padayas, as Actor C, played Katrina (the wedding coordinator), Pippa (the sister of the Groom), Tomas (Janice’s boyfriend), and Young Sherry. Padayas’ frantic and frustrated Katrina brought me back to my days of catering that I thought I had left behind. Her other characters were distinct which was a difficult task given the fact that she was playing two children and mysterious Latin lover.
The gender swapping was something I really enjoyed. Of course, there were some jokes or gags involved but for the most part, the audience forgot (or at least I forgot) that they were even men and women dressing up. I had a difficult time telling whether the audience was enjoying themselves. They laughed a fair amount but ATP has created a show that warranted much more laughter. The Wedding Party is funny. There are so many characters that are so ridiculous that are played with the utmost gravity, jokes that work because the audience is in on the chaos. What I was missing, and I hope will improve with time – or a different pair of eyes – is the pacing of the scenes themselves. I lost some of the dialogue with how quickly everything was moving. In things like the box trick, I couldn’t figure out what has happening and then it was over. But in so much more, I was waiting for the laugh to come that was so well deserved, and it just didn’t.
Curt McKinstry, another seasoned actor, more recognizable for his roles in mystery and suspense, played Actor D, which included Edna (the Bride’s grandmother), Frank (the bride’s uncle), and Murray (Jack Sr.’s business partner). McKinstry played some ridiculous characters and physically requiring roles – not a challenge for McKinstry but I could see the differences in how he carried all of his characters, and I loved his “grandma waddle”.
Josie Jones is an actor I wasn’t familiar with when I walked into the theatre and now, I’m interested to see where she’ll go next. Playing Actor E, including Edward (Jack Jr.’s grandfather), Tiger (Tony’s son), Kevin (the videographer), and Young Jack Jr, Jones showed off her ability to play boys of all ages – different and yet studied movement, and character voices I’m excited to see grow over time.
Last but certainly not least was Katherine Fadum playing Actor F, including Maddy (the bride’s mother) and Pilot the Dog. Pilot was a character I didn’t necessarily understand but Fadum played the dog wonderfully. Maddy would be a handful to deal with in person, I can’t imagine dealing with her every day of rehearsals and performances but I never doubted Fadum’s ability to create a surprisingly sympathetic, and human character – including the dog.
What an amazing show. I laughed and smiled all the way through and felt so bad for the bride and groom on their special day. For the sheer talent of the performers and crew, this show is not one to be missed.
The Wedding Party plays at the Martha Cohen Theatre until September 28th 2019. Tickets can be purchased at www.albertatheatreprojects.com.