by Sarah Haley
The Wedding Party, a comedy co-produced by Crow’s Theatre and Talk is Free Theatre, is a chaotic dramedy with clear Shakespearean influences. With mistaken identities and deception, marriage, miscommunication, and complex and intertwining storylines, it has almost all the markers of one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Yet the unresolved issues and the missing newlyweds strays from conventions and steers more towards tragedy. It lies in limbo, insistent in its comedy but straying from the form it outlines. The Wedding Party is a play that is full of life and innovation but lacks substance and a clear resolution.
After a very short courtship, a young couple decides to get married. But getting married means having a wedding. And a wedding means family, new in-laws, champagne and, in this case, chaos. As the mother of the bride and the father of the groom attempt to navigate the wedding night, they must also come to terms with the way they navigated their roles as parents as well as their new roles as in-laws. The play includes complex family dynamics and pressures, estranged twins, cross-dressing, confusion, and love. It explores the mess that love and family creates, but it attempts to remain a light-hearted comedy which ultimately deflates its story and comedic value.
The multitude of characters played by an ensemble of 6 is impressive, each taking on at least 3 different roles. While the play is written by Kristen Thomson, it is clear that the characters were created in collaboration with others, including actors Trish Lindström, Moya O’Connell, and Tom Rooney. Each character was unique, and while each actor took many different roles, the distinction between each character was evident through the acting, not simply the costuming. The issues inherent to a small cast performing multiple characters are deftly overcome by director Chris Abraham. With video projection and self-referential jokes, the overlapping of characters is clear and well-choreographed.
While the Bride and Groom never appear on stage together, videos of their first dance are projected on a screen. The projections are used to great effect. They emphasize the large guest list at the wedding party while also allowing actors to play multiple characters at once. While Jack Sr. flirts with Alice, Jack Jr.’s Best “Man,” the camera pans to an angry Margaret. As Moya O’Connell plays both Alice and Jack’s wife Margaret, it allows her to literally be in two places at once. This creative problem solving extends further with father of the groom, Jack Sr., and his estranged twin brother, Tony (both of whom are played by Tom Rooney) who have a conversation of sorts through projections. Through this ordeal, Jack accurately points out that “it is clear that we [Jack and Tony] can’t be in the same room together.” Yet, in the end, they do. With Rooney quickly moving back and forth to play both brothers, a new comedic element is added, but it cheapens the creative solutions used earlier in the play. With a number of mistaken identities that could rival Shakespeare, using the same actor to play the brothers may be difficult, but for the most part, Rooney makes it look easy.
While the use of projection helps maintain the ensemble of characters, the bride and groom are only depicted on video, and only briefly at that. Without the presence of the bride and groom, it is difficult to understand the relationship between love and family that is so integral to the story. While in Shakespeare’s comedies, the plot often ends with couples marrying despite the social and parental pressure that attempt to drive them apart, The Wedding Party goes beyond the wedding. The social and parental pressures are constant through the wedding, and because of that, the resolution that is usually present in a comedy is missing. The play begins directly after the wedding and the bride and groom are never on stage, and thus never used to connect the feuding family members through their union. There is very little character development or growth: the characters, although well developed, are unappetizing from start to finish, which erodes the play’s ability to explore complex issues through the form. The class conflict inherent in the weddings is often brought up, whether that be by the flowing champagne or Maddie having to take out a line of credit to simply pay for the flowers. The divides between class and wealth are referenced constantly in the play, but they are never explored beyond jokes and ammunition for fights. Shakespearean comedies often have philosophical themes interwoven in them, making them something that transcends jokes and leaves behind an impact. The hidden messages of Shakespeare’s comedies are integral to the genre, which leaves the question, what is the story being told in The Wedding Party? Is it merely a comedy that relies heavily on derivative comedic tropes from laughs? Or is it a commentary of class divides, emphasized through familial pressures?
No matter the message, without the newlyweds to resolve the issues, the play ends without catharsis and without a resounding message. The characters wander off, leaving the disastrous wedding for their own reasons as the play descends into the throes of chaos. This connects it to another Shakespearean form – tragedy. Yet it does not set itself up for a tragic ending but rather a slow deflation as if it is unsure how to truly end the story. It becomes introspective, but it doesn’t spur change, only reemphasizes the same issues. Without the newlyweds, the symbol of overcoming class divides, familial pressures, and the power of love, the impact of the message is lost. While there is a brief flashback to the bride and groom meeting in childhood, setting them up as star-crossed lovers, there is very little continuity of the relationship in the present. Without the physical manifestation of their fateful relationship, it is left to the in-laws to overcome the divides themselves, something they are unable to do without the married couple acting as a bridge.
The set design also wades into this difficult terrain. The set is well designed and gives the feel of an extravagant wedding. It even sticks to many of the tenants of the early modern stage, with two dominating pillars upstage, allowing for many different entrances for all the different characters. Despite the aesthetically complete set, it doesn’t do much to compliment the story or the major themes. With the exception of the copious amounts of alcohol on stage, the characters rarely interact with the set. It does very little to explore and expand on the story, and it largely serves to simply represent a wedding reception. Much like with the characters and storyline, the set could benefit by leaning into its Shakespearean roots and creating a sparser, more practical set. With an early modern stage already intact it would be useful to grapple with the geography of the stage. The levels and entrances could be used to emphasize the class conflict inherent in the story as it once did on the early modern stage, giving the script substance and meaning. Despite this, the set is well designed to allow smooth integration between the characters and the audience.
The inclusion of the audience into the performance creates parallels to the play and the environment it is staged within. The play takes place in real time – or close enough to it. The play begins with a cocktail period, where the tensions begin to bubble. After intermission, the set changes and the dinner begins. The sparsely laid space below the raised stage is covered in tables and chairs where several audience members were invited to continue to observe the party on stage. It is a clever ploy that helps create the atmosphere of a large wedding party with only a cast of six and it emphasizes that the audience members are part of the reception; they are the three hundred guests invited to the wedding.
The Wedding Party is a funny and familiar story that uses common tropes to its advantage and disadvantage. It may have many of the marks of a Shakespearean comedy but jokes at the expense of people’s drinking problems should be a thing of the past, not a hilarious premise. It is a fun show that includes the audience in the story, but it falters in the end, losing its comedic rhythm and meaning. As it follows the form of a Shakespearean comedy, it would be beneficial to end like one as well, with a central theme that resolves itself at the end. Instead, it is left in stasis, awaiting a comedic moment to detract from the lack of development of character and theme. Playing at the NAC until February 9th (with rush tickets!) The Wedding Party is a humorous story about the trials and tribulations of love and family, but it could benefit from a clearer message and resolution.
The Wedding Party
by Kristen Thomson
Directed by Chris Abraham
Based on the characters created with Trish Lindström, Tony Nappo, Moya O’Connell, Tom Rooney, and Bahia Watson
A Crow’s Theatre (Toronto, ON) and Talk is Free Theatre (Barrie, ON) co-production
January 30th to Feb 9th, 2019
Showtimes and ticket info can be found here.
Sarah Haley is a student at Carleton University. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with concentrations in Medieval Studies and Theatre.