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The title of Nancy Frick's 2010 play, Four Weddings and an Elvis, sounds like a crazy comedy suitable for a community theatre production. While that impression is not entirely wrong, the script goes beyond its sitcom setup to offer witty dialogue, contemporary viewpoints on marriage, and a genuine warmth concerning matters of the heart. And, while Cary Players' production includes several typical community theatre elements, the staging generates constant laughter prompted by a likeable, dedicated cast.
In what might seem a TV comedy series premise, the setting is a wedding chapel in Las Vegas run for 17 years by Sandy, four times married and divorced with the same husband. Her seen-it-all experience allows her to handle whatever comes her way and, in four scenes covering a two-year period, quite a lot does.
In the first scene, Bev and Stan barge in, eager to get married quickly. Despite their intense protestations of love, it's soon revealed that the marriage is really for revenge on their ex-spouses. Sandy's former husband works as her wedding minister but is always drunk, so Sandy calls in John, the Elvis imitator/minister next door, to perform the ceremony. While waiting for Stan to try on a tuxedo, John counsels Bev on what the real basis of a marriage should be.
At the Sunday April 28 matinee, this rather short scene got the production off to a roaring start, with tightly paced action and well-timed punchlines, thanks to Nicola Lefler's perky direction. Laura Arwood's Sandy had the right sly wit and been-there-done-that persona, while putting on a fake smile as she attempted to sell the couple additional amenities.
Sean Malone made Stan's growing frustration believable as he lost his resolve dealing with delays and doubts. Michelle Corbitt's Bev triggered laughs as she belied her eagerness by taking time to choose a wedding theme and formalwear. R Freeman Sykes was amusing in John's feeble attempts at Elvis impressions, while making John's sincerity about finding the right woman an engaging character trait. And kudos for Carole Kelly's humorous video projections of various wedding themes the chapel offers.
The second scene, however, was problematic in script and production. It centers on Vanessa and Bryce, a pair of vain, has-been TV stars hoping their marriage will create publicity to revive their careers. But no reporters show up, so they desperately try to think of something for attention, which stirs up animosities and secrets. Lou, an aging former Elvis imitator whom Sandy has hired as chapel minister, irritates the couple by not recognizing them.
Thankfully, Lefler didn't push Jenny Marconyak and Keith A. Kenel to go totally overboard with celebrity stereotypes, because a lot of that is already in the script. They both made distinctions between their characters' public personas and private realities, each playing the latter with appealing choices. Dan Bain projected a bumbling charm as Lou, but was undercut by obvious old-age makeup and an unconvincing use of a cane. The scene is written twice as long as needed and is essentially a one-joke premise about stuck-up stars. Here the pace was much slower and the laughs much farther in between.
After intermission, the audience was rewarded with the play's best-written scene and most captivating actors. Marvin, a geeky mail carrier with a passion for postal rules and regulations, arrives with Fiona, a tattooed former convict. They met online while Fiona was in prison, and she wants to turn her life around with Marvin. Fist, the former boyfriend who convinced her to help rob a bank, has broken out of prison to stop the wedding because he still has feelings for Fiona. Hilarity ensues as Marvin tries to defend Fiona from Fist's advances.
Danny Mullins made Marvin a lovable nerd, whose upbeat attitude that he can make Fiona happy had the audience pulling for him. Susie Pratt's Fiona was a force to be reckoned with, astutely layering all the streetwise bravado with warmth and vulnerability. Jason Christ, too, had great charisma as Fist, the threatening tough guy who has a tender side. All three had great comic timing as well as an emotional reality that likely brought a tear or two to many eyes.
The final scene, in which Sandy is marrying for a fifth time (no spoilers here), brings back all the other characters as guests, with Sean Malone doubling as a reality series producer and Tim Coyle in a surprise cameo. Frick manages to work in some delightfully silly situations and some fun physical humor, but the scene goes on too long, especially as the production was well over two hours.
Katie Moorehead's pink and white chapel set, with heart-emblazoned stained-glass windows, formed a whimsical backdrop, enhanced by Emily Johns' costumes, hair, and makeup designs. Hannah Wolfert's prop designs, from bouquets to dog whistles, and Todd Houseknecht's sound designs, from police sirens to Elvis recordings, rounded out the technical achievements.
Special mention must be made about the cast's fine projection and enunciation, particularly from Arwood, Malone, Pratt, and Christ. Many a Triangle actor could benefit from such examples of what is quickly becoming a lost art.
To say that this was a successful community theatre production is no backhanded compliment. It's to emphasize that entertaining and satisfying theatre experiences can be had at any level when commitment and talent are present.
Four Weddings and an Elvis continues through Sunday, May 5. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.