“I’m starting to think this wedding needs a villain,” says Carlo, as if the person he had half bumped into was a murder mystery.
Of course there are plenty of suspects who are behaving badly, chief among them Carlo himself, a freelance snark machine with a hole in his heart, and an alcohol-fueled flavor for the piercing apercu. He scares the kids’ table with a hellish lesson about the fate of romance: “the worst pain you’ll ever feel in your life.” At the same time, uh-oh, the bride’s ex – you know, the one who neglected the RSVP
While it’s not likely to be the first time a comedy has brought out an ex-ex-marriage scheme to grind, Bryna Turner’s “at the weddingOpening Monday at the Claire Tow Theatre,” offers a fresh and compelling take on the genre. And in Carlo, the scarred heart of the story, it offers actor Mary Wiseman the perfect showcase for her two-level comic genius, stacked high like a lesbian Lucy in her curly red mat.
I say split level because at Wiseman there is always something verbally happening upstairs and something else emotionally happening in the basement. Sipping endless succession of wedding drinks in a kind of barn in Northern California, Carlo pretends to be a hedgehog, tossing quills in jokes. Wasn’t it the ceremony, she cheerfully asks another guest, “aggressively heterosexual”? (His ex Eva married a man.) “I almost thought they were going to start checking the hymen right in front of us.”
The lines are funny; Turner has a boxer sense of the two-beat rhythm of jokes. But it was Wiseman who first sounded the spotlight as a brightly dim belle. “An Octoroon” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins at the same time it makes them funny. While she focuses her anger on the wedding as a false celebration — “I’ve seen more believable fire drills,” says Carlo, where attachment really gnaws at his own wound. For those who are not very good at falling in love, such gifts are worse than embarrassment; they are torture.
The 70-minute live production of LCT3 masterfully directed by Jenna Worsham gives us both of these elements right away. A huge labial paper-flowered chandelier hangs from the ceiling of the Maruti Evans set; a cheerful but ominous “Til Death” sign spreads its neon message among Oona Curley’s string lights and lanterns. However, neither the game nor the design fully support Carlo’s one-sided view. The eclectic playlist (voiced by Fan Zhang) is exactly the kind you want to dance to, and the flattering costumes (by Oana Botez) are the kind you want people to dance to.
It’s particularly clever to let Eva (Rebecca S’manga Frank) look gorgeous in a truly elegant dress; she’s not a comic book bride, and while we may never find out exactly what happened in her relationship with Carlo, it’s clear she had a good reason to end it. And if Carlo, in mourning, has turned into exemplary anger – Turner openly compares him to the Old Marine. Coleridge’s poemshe appeals to her wedding guests with her gruesome tale—legitimate beef has never entirely stopped us from viewing other partygoers as shambles of kindness and monstrosity.
The game is structured to expose this contradiction in the series of one-on-one encounters with Carlo. An ax bridesmaid named Carly (Keren Lugo) tells her “you won’t fail if you decide to leave”, but later returns to console her. Eva’s drunken mother, Maria (Carolyn McCormick), denies the RSVP blunder but later rejects Carlo herself. A guest named Eli (Will Rogers) says he plans to propose to his partner at the party, so he “emotionally misses” the festivities (as Carlo warns him) – it’s apparently his thing, not his. However, it is much more complex than it seems at first glance.
So does Leigh (Han Van Sciver), an androgynous Lothario who uses pronouns. Leigh’s flirtation with Carlo – suggesting they leave the party for a romp elsewhere – seems innocent enough at first, despite Leigh’s brother being the groom. When that innocence is later questioned and the selfish side of sexual freedom is revealed, the game still refuses to dismiss Leigh outright.
If Turner’s faith in her characters doesn’t always come back—Maria, who only gets one scene, feels subtly, and Leigh is never fully consistent despite Van Sciver’s shrewd performance—his faith in the audience is an entirely successful investment. Their jokes often have long lead times, with one scene fiction, another payoff. The plot, too, lays before you, confident that you will survive in delightful obscurity until the loose threads are finally gathered. In one case, a line sung by the overburdened waiter (Jorge Donoso) requires almost 40 pages of script to deliver a pinhole prize.
This writer’s patience is part of what makes “At the Wedding” so fresh; While there’s a lot of one-sidedness, it’s not a load-up comedy that imposes its laughter on you or makes its intentions too obvious. (“bull in a grocery storeTurner’s professional playwriting debut seen at LCT3 in 2017 was a little more boisterous and insistent.) The way Turner reshapes the wedding genre for our time, inviting new characters to the party is also refreshing.
He does this thoughtfully and subtly enough not to seem trendy or polemical. Rather, it is central to the game’s examination of how our traditional ways of connecting people operate in a world that is always more diverse than its institutions.
For “At the Wedding” these institutions now include more than just marriage, which many queer people can choose if they want, in tailored-cut forms like Eva’s gorgeous dress. They include love itself and its loss. For Carlo, and sometimes for all of us, love is the albatross hanging around our neck and the sad story we have to tell forever. Funny if you’re not.
at the wedding
At the Manhattan Claire Tow Theater until April 17; lct.org. Working time: 1 hour 10 minutes.