There’s a Party at Bryna Turner’s Claire Tow Theater At the wedding, and you are invited to bear witness to… despair? After our wedding anti-hero, Carlo (Mary Wiseman) kicks things off with a bitterly funny, fourth-wall-breaking monologue about the inevitability of overwhelming heartache, a bridesmaid berates him in the scene. next for making the youngest guests at the event cry with her spiel. Yes, you are unwittingly brought to the children’s table, from which you can watch 70 minutes of enjoyable, if mundane, sharing of wisdom and insight into the unbreakable bond between love and pain.
Heartbreak is an odd fixation to have at a wedding, but once again Carlo attends that of an ex-girlfriend, Eva (Rebecca S’Manga Frank). Having failed to RSVP, Carlo treats her surprise appearance as the stuff of rom-coms: she hopes Eva realizes that Carlo is her one true love, who will save her from a tragically generic heterosexual marriage. (More on that in a moment.) Carlo only spends one scene advancing this mission; most of the play sees her drinking – heavily – in an equal attempt to show courage and drown her sorrows, while engaging in conversation with various wedding guests in a Company-thumbnail sequence style.
Each guest sits at a different place on the love spectrum: there’s Eli (Will Rogers), a serious English teacher on the fast track of his own heartbreak. Maria (Carolyn McCormick), the bride’s divorced mother, shares Carlo’s tactic of venting his jealousy upon seeing a younger woman on her ex-husband’s arm. Waiter Victor (Jorge Donoso) mostly floats in the background, supplying and clearing drinks when needed, but gets a singular moment to pass out in front of his “other half”. And the mysterious and seductive stranger Leigh (Han Van Sciver) matches Carlo’s spirit-loving jabs for the spirit, but brings her closest to the oblivion of her loneliness.
Wiseman, the connective tissue between them all, achieves the remarkable feat of diverting the audience’s attention from the gigantic red and orange floral arrangement above the stage (the centerpiece of Maruti Evans’ rustic event hall), and not just because her red curly hairstyle is almost as great. Wiseman’s wit is sharp, her vulnerability tender, and her charm ineffable, even as she feels self-pity and tussles with a bridesmaid (her nemesis comically named Carly, played by Keren Lugo) .
Unfortunately, except perhaps for Leigh, every other character’s development is sacrificed to accommodate Carlo’s huge presence and narrow view of true love. It was very disappointing to see this happen to Eva – her big day is in the title, after all! She had the potential to be explored as a healthy bisexual woman coming out of a past relationship, but instead is reduced to a trope of the lesbian who “betrays” the lesbian community by falling in love with a man. .
A saving way to interpret these pieces of At the wedding is that it’s actually happening from Carlo’s point of view, and there’s evidence for it: the guests Carlo socializes with are likely to be an age-old blur if she’s drunk. Some of the decorations seem to conflict – a balloon that reads “Love is sweet” suggests a candy theme, while an “Anchored in love” banner on the hors d’oeuvres table suggests a nautical theme — not that it matters to Carlo, who sees the whole ceremony as generic and “extremely heterosexual” anyway. And a neon sign on the wall reads “until we die”, with the “let’s part” nowhere in sight, which is about as dark as you’d expect from the spirit from Carl. If nothing else, these details are another testament to Evans’ wonderful design.
Another thing At the wedding gets right is the lack of a proper conclusion. Carlo does not suddenly overcome his grief or resign himself to it forever in the hour of the play; she just leaves with a lot to think about. The same can’t be said for audiences, unfortunately, unless you’ve never seen a romantic comedy. But there is still a fun time to be had at this wedding.
At the wedding is at the Claire Tow Theater until April 17. At the wedding tickets on New York Theater Guide.
Photo credit: Mary Wiseman in At the wedding. (Photo by Marc J. Franklin)