ONLINE EXCLUSIVE – Stage – An Enthusiastic Reception

Posted on 14 Feb 2008 at 5:52pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones

STAGE

An enthusiastic reception
‘Tony n’ Tina’ takes dinner theater to hilarious levels


By the time you get a few minutes into the gestalt which is the improv-theater experience called "Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding," you begin to ask yourself: "Did I pay for this?" After all, the entire point of the evening is to simulate an actual wedding, albeit with a lot of intentionally unintentional comedy thrown in.


And so, when you are greeted at the entrance of the church (the Weisfeld Center downtown, itself a refurbished church) by friendly people whom you have never met, forced to sit on hard pews among dozens of virtual strangers, stranded at a table with either glum, humorless old ladies or obnoxious boors, eating spaghetti served from a chafing dish, you can’t help but feel you’ve been here before. And you didn’t really enjoy it the last time and you really knew those people. This is everything that reminds you of why weddings are great events to avoid.

So how come "TnT" is such a hoot?

Everything about it reminds you of a real wedding, while ratcheting up the way in which all the awful, unforeseen events unfold. Call it metatheater: it’s a play that both pretends not to be a play and constantly reminds you that it is for instance, the admission is charged "in lieu of a wedding gift." It lets you in on the joke from the beginning, a fact that softens moments that might otherwise be considered offensive. ("What do you call to gay Irish guys?" teases the cheesy wedding comic. "John Fitzpatrick and Patrick Fitzjohn." On your sister’s big day, you’d groan; here, you laugh at its intentional political incorrectness.)

All the characters are here: The happy couple he’s something of a gorilla, she has teased her hair so much it probably has self-esteem issues and their party: a pregnant, unmarried maid of honor and a few goombah groomsmen; the bride’s fey brother has brought his sassy boyfriend (though no one will admit they are gay); the bride’s ex who crashes the party; the Bon Jovi-covering wedding singer who makes Adam Sandler look like Pavarotti. Add the lecherous father, the slutty bridesmaids, the drunk priest and the sleazy photographer, and you know someone’s gonna start a fight. (If the opera isn’t over until the fat lady sings, the wedding isn’t over until the best man pukes.) Welcome to the party!

Much of the evening proceeds as you’d expert: Cheap décor (there’s a cash bar), cheaper family members, a soundtrack of ’80s and ’90s pop hits, "The Electric Slide," the tossing of the bouquet. But it’s all so lively, so friendly and there’s a weird thrill at being hauled up on the dance floor to do the limbo is goes beyond the confines of normal entertainment.

Credit the cast mainly local actors, though I won’t name any to maintain the illusion who dive Zen-like into their roles. Relish the caterer’s crabby Goth daughter, who never cracks a smile (and slaps a meatball on your dinner plate like she’s trying to hurt you), Tina’s former boyfriend, off the wagon and apt to take his shirt off during "YMCA;" the groom’s brother, Johnny, who’s one "How you doin’?" away from a bus and truck production of "Friends." They’re all great, as are all the actors. If only all work could be this much fun.

"Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding," Weisfeld Center, 1508 Cadiz St. Through March 9. Tuesdays Saturdays at 7 p.m., weekend matinees at 2 p.m. $65 $85. 214-631-2787.


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