The Unwilling Bride/Coming 'Round Again | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Unwilling Bride/Coming 'Round Again 

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THE UNWILLING BRIDE and

COMING 'ROUND AGAIN

Quando Productions

at Sheffield's School Street Cafe

It's probably cynical to say that a first play is like a first pancake--you should throw it out and get to the good stuff. So I didn't say it. But new works like these glib one-acts from Quando Productions suggest a warning to novice playwrights everywhere: if you write two-dimensional sitcoms, don't be surprised when audiences wonder why they didn't stay home.

The Unwilling Bride, a first play by Chicagoan Gabrielle Young, is fairly yoked to the tube. Young's life-style comedy concerns a couple, the patient Phil (Tim Glisson) and his restless lover Maggie (Anne Reifsteck), who've been together only two years but seem to have lost the bloom on the rose of their romance. Reeling from an early mid-life crisis or a two-year itch, Maggie craves fairy-tale love and molten passion, and fears that Phil has succumbed to terminal contentment.

Meanwhile Maggie's pushy mother Etta (Edna Romonofsky) is desperate to acquire a grandchild--she's even bought a baby carrier. So she enlists her gay son Stepan (Sherman Shoemaker) and randy Aunt Jewel (Buff Lee) and they hire a hillbilly street preacher named Reverend Judy (Teri Marinkovich) to marry the two. Oddly unenraged at this attempt at a shotgun wedding, Maggie nevertheless decides this would not be the "spontaneous adventure" she desires. The wedding and Phil's half-hearted offer of a honeymoon in Tibet get canceled, and they decide to play their love life as it lays, its security and predictability notwithstanding.

Unambitious to a fault, Young's one-act contains nothing that would make it unsuitable as a network pilot. Stereotypes that cry out for surprises or reversals just get confirmed. And the play's easy messages--that the mother should abandon the grandchild fantasy and accept her mortality, and that storybook romance lives only between book covers--are as pat as the style is derivative.

Peppily directed by Marian Hank-Tomasello, The Unwilling Bride is at least diverting. But once you know where it's going--a discovery made in minutes, followed by a vague longing for the places it could have gone--her easygoing, stop-and-start staging becomes somewhat annoying. The six-member ensemble act broadly, with amiability and eagerness to spare, but they're in constant peril of losing that crucial third dimension and shrinking into electron images. At least Reifsteck pokes some wry fun at Maggie's operatic appetite for self-pity.

This writer's first play is pleasant at any rate. But the evening's curtain raiser--Coming 'Round Again, by Chicagoan J.S. Bergman--is a talky, mannered mess, a silly piece of fluff about another inert couple.

It opens with a sick joke: Trish (Mari Coles) accidentally loses her hamster Truffles in the disposal. (Hoping to give new life to her sagging marriage, Trish had planned to puree the tiny critter into an aphrodisiac, the recipe taken from some exotic tribal menu she stumbled across.) But not to worry: hubby Harold (Wayne Bassi) loves her despite her dippy love potion. And at this point the play lurches from grungy humor into pseudo-serious chat about the nature of true devotion.

It's hard to say which is more repellent--the sight of a half-mangled hamster being extricated from the disposal or the playwright's assumption that after triggering a gag reflex he can segue into arch, overwritten love banter. In any case, not a breath of fresh air blows through the stiff dialogue. And it's hard to work up any sympathy for someone stupid or sick enough to stick a hamster in a Cuisinart.

Providing the aimless, jerky staging this drivel invites, director Buff Lee gives her beleaguered actors nothing interesting to do--the perfect complement to what they have to say. It's rare to encounter such directionless blocking or cutesified acting; if the actors had made up their movements and lines, they couldn't help but have created a better staging and script.

Inconsequential and clumsy, meandering and overwritten, Coming 'Round Again is the best excuse for improvisation this side of Second City. No way this pancake can pass for a meal.

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