Surviving the ‘Perfect Wedding’

A Groom’s Mysterious Bed Companion Initiates a Priceless Comedy of Errors at Vienna’s English Theater

On The Town | Lisa Malzer | June 2007

It’s high wedding season: Brides and families hope for the perfect outcome, while grooms wait nervously and spend final drunken days with best friends. And then marriage comes, an idealized tradition weighted with puffy white dress and expensive receptions.  Perfect Wedding, Robin Hawdon’s uproarious rapid-fire farce directed by Matthew White at Vienna’s English Theatre, is a series of calamitous efforts at concealing disaster on the "big day."

Beginning with a wedding eve diversion with a brunette named Judy (Pamela Banks) in the honeymoon sweet after his "stag" party, the groom Bill (Matthew Carter) hilariously pieces together his foggy recollections, at once hysterical and frantic. His performance is especially strong while he brainstorms with the best man Tom (Nicholas Atkinson) in the typical screwball comedy style—their dialogue a non-stop, flawless comedic exchange between two chaotic characters with arched British accents. Tom provocatively holds up a toilet brush raising a brow to Bill who’s still in his underwear: "Can you remember what you used this for?"

Atkinson is the strongest performer, delivering an expressive portrayal of the best man under stress, pushing his own problems aside to hold it all together. But as the pressure builds, he channels his inner monster, threatening with a mighty cake knife the man who’s slept with his girlfriend.

Bill needs the perfect excuse for Judy who is locked in the bathroom. Lucky for him, in walks the chambermaid Julie (Janine Hales), an ace accomplice. She is fresh and lively, as an easily amused, meddling, gossipy go-between in her green shorts, green striped shirt, green hoop earrings, hair clip and green shoes (costume design Helga Krutzler).

Hands on hips, she is at once sassy and rough around the edges, requiring refills of champagne for her troubles. Hales giggles, simultaneously devious and sweet, like a girl up to no good—the perfect contrast to the "civilized" bride and groom and family. In comparison, Banks is too composed as Judy—since this play is a farce, the class contrasts should be sharp. Judy comes out somewhere in the middle, neither hot nor cold.

In farce, there is always some kernel of truth in the madness. A wedding should be an outward symbol of the feelings the couple share. Here, however, are people who have lost sight of the very meaning of marriage—it is more important that the celebration run smoothly, and that someone, anyone, gets married in the end.

The bride Rachel (Sarah Desmond) does a good job playing the stereotypical bride. She meticulously unpacks her suitcase complete with all the accessories a proper bride should have: negligee, silk robe, garter, and of course linen spray for the honeymoon bed--ensuring the most romantic wedding night.

In a white suit, button-down red shirt, and Pollyanna curls, she is mostly calm, but commanding. She orders her fiancée to look into her eyes when she speaks, and grits her teeth with the vindictive edge of a school marm. She barks at everyone to leave her alone, and then with a few deep breaths becomes calm, painting her toe-nails, flipping through magazines on the divan upholstered in pink rose print.

Bill is surprised by her behavior. "I’ve never seen you like this." He looks frightened. It seems he’s forgotten to really find out, as some people do, who it is he’s actually marrying.

The stage design (Terry Parsons), with four doors as entrances into the two brightly lit rooms, eases the comic timing, allowing the actors to move swiftly between them. The doors give the illusion of physical separation and privacy, even though the play is filled with eavesdropping and intrusion.

The audience can view both rooms simultaneously: the calm bridal preparations on one side in the pink and white bridal suite, and frantic men on the other improperly downing champagne in the immaculate English cottage, complete with pitched ceiling and fancy furniture.

Rachel’s mother, Daphne (Anah Ruddin) is the quintessential stuffy matron, dressed in "pantomime" black and white with an oversized black hat complete with ostrich feathers and red flower. Ruddin hums like an old lady in church, quintessentially annoying. For her, the wedding is more important than her daughter’s feelings. After the dress has been hemmed and the guests are waiting in the church, is there turning back?

Even if the wedding day was far from perfect, this performance was close to it, and greeted on this evening with waves of applause.

Through Jun. 30, 19:30

Vienna’s English Theatre

8. Josephsgasse 12

(01) 402 120-0

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