|Glenna Nolte, Renae Iversen, Laurie Bishop, and Cathy Aicher|
Photo by Carl Dahlquist
By Tina Arth
HART’s latest production, The Wedding of the Century, is the North American premiere of an often hilarious comedy by New Zealand playwright Devon Williamson, and the opening night audience clearly saw a lot to laugh at in the innovative and original story of an ancient nun living out her last days in a nursing home. Director Mark Putnam and his cast are clearly having a fine time on stage, and their attitude is somewhat infectious. However, the play has a few significant problems – my general impression is that there is a really nice comedy buried in there, but that Mr. Williamson would benefit from collaborating with a skilled script doctor to refine the work, editing out some extraneous and occasionally juvenile (if sometimes funny) material and helping to augment the comedy with a bit more serious exploration of key themes in the core story.
The play takes place over a 7-day period in one room at the Rest In Peace Rest Home and Funeral Home (the first clue that some of the humor is not particularly sophisticated). The home’s oldest resident, retired nun Sister Dorothy, is approaching her 100th birthday, much to the delight of rest home operator Maxine. A Goth teen, Jessica, appears in the room, intent on using interviews with Sister Dorothy for a school project. Jessica looks sufficiently diabolical that other residents of the home (Nelly and Phyllis) consistently mistake her for Satan, but the old nun quickly sees through the Jessica’s hard outer shell to the angst-ridden adolescent underneath. Dorothy tells Jessica of her early years in India, in particular about a handsome young chai wallah (tea seller) named Aditya. Challenged to start a bucket list (at 99!) Dorothy surprises everyone by admitting that her one unfulfilled desire is to get married. Although they have no idea who the groom will be, Nelly, Phyllis, and Jessica embrace the plan enthusiastically, while Maxine is less thrilled (she has been planning an elaborate 100th birthday party, and does not want a fantasy wedding to get in the way). The show leaves the audience laughing with a nicely unexpected Bollywood touch.
While the acting is at times uneven, there are several very funny performances. Sarah Cunningham’s “Jessica” has some great moments, and many of her more awkward scenes can be attributed to the writing, rather than the acting or direction. Although Laurie Bishop (Nelly) sometimes has trouble with her lines, she uses her voice to great effect, and the character’s direct, abrasive, but fundamentally appealing persona comes through quite nicely. Glenna Nolte does a great job of capturing the loveable ditziness of the senile Phyllis, and she grabs many of the show’s best laughs as she bounces between her various realities. As wedding planner apprentice Raphael, Spencer Putnam shows no inhibition, putting all of his character’s fey naiveté onstage to the delight of an appreciate audience. Cathy Aicher does her best in the lead role as Sister Dorothy, but her part suffers from a shortage of either humor or character development that would offer her more of an opportunity to shine.
William Crawford and Mark Putnam’s set design is effective in using the relatively small HART stage to create both Dorothy’s room and a nice courtyard, allowing the several scenes with no scene changes (always a plus, in my opinion). Karen Roder’s costume design and elaborate lobby display enrich the visual contrast between Sister Dorothy’s lifelong Catholicism and her youthful brush with Hindu culture.
While there are, as noted, problems with the script, The Wedding of the Century packs a lot of laughs into just over two hours, and attending a show like this can provide a great distraction from the annoyances and angst of daily life.
The Wedding of the Century runs through Sunday, February 25th with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays at HART Theater, 185 S.E. Washington, Hillsboro.