Plano — It is hard to know where to begin.
In an interview with Montgomery News, playwright Nancy Frick said Four Weddings and an Elvis was “the easiest and quickest play” she had ever written. She completed the script in three months. Inspired by Frick’s own Las Vegas wedding experience in 1999, this is a comedic play about four couples coming into a dinky little wedding chapel in Las Vegas to get married. Four Weddings and an Elvis, directed by Matt Stepan, is currently onstage at Rover Dramawerks in Plano, the second production of the 2015-2016 season.
This script would be perfect for a graduate theater directing problems course. The premise works, but the storytelling is awkward. The proprietor of the chapel, Sandy (Eileen Kennedy Alger), has been married four times, and is on the verge of marrying again. The first bride and groom are Bev (Emily Burgardt) and Stan (Henry Okigbo). Bev and Stan are angry because they have each been dumped. Their wedding is an act of payback, not love. They are scheduled to be married by John (Gary Eoff), the Elvis minister.
Couple number two, Vanessa Wells (Veronica Day) and Bryce Cannon (Kenneth Fulenwider), are has-been celebrities desperate to garner media attention and stage a comeback. When the minister assigned to their ceremony becomes unavailable, Lou (Don Kruizinga) agrees to step in to perform the ceremony.
The third wedding is the real thing, a relationship rooted in love between Fiona (Danielle Shirar) and Marvin (Garrett Hayes). Their union becomes a twosome plus one (which is not exactly a threesome) of Fiona, Marvin, and Fiona’s recently escaped convict ex-boyfriend Fist (Louis Tarmichael) who is living with them temporarily.
Sandy finally stages her own wedding, and invites the other three couples to attend. It is assumed that she will remarry Ken (Darrell Martin).
A tortured script needs a director that can make it tolerable for an audience. That is part of the director’s job—to identify problems and find solutions that preserve the playwright’s story, while smoothing the telling of it for the actors. That does not happen here. As a result, some of the cast members resort to defensive acting, perhaps in an effort to make some sense of things for themselves as they moved through the play. Sometimes this works, most times it does not.
Danielle Shirar makes it work; her Fiona is believable, funny and her scenes with Garrett Hayes are convincingly adorable. Marvin and Fiona are the odd couple, the gritty woman and the nerdy intellectual guy. Hayes’ acting is sufficient to establish that character. He is costumed similarly to the Urkel character from Family Matters. Unnecessary. Given that these characters are stereotypes, the profiles are already exaggerated. Broadening them further dilutes the comedy, which happens too often in this production.
The most glaring example is the extreme and almost offensively stereotyped gay/not-gay character, Bryce. We know this character—the effeminate gay celebrity pretending otherwise, feigning shock and dismay upon discovering that everybody knows. Fulenwider’s cliché Norma Desmond-esque physical gestures (whiplash wig tossing) might have been funny the first time, but not the tenth. Fulenwider is a commanding figure with enough stage presence to portray Bryce without that level of excess.
It is unclear what Veronica Day is attempting to do with her character, Vanessa.
Fist is described as a scary bank robber tough guy. Tarmichael’s booming delivery denies any levels, squandering opportunities for humor. There is a chaotic moment in the second act when the police are surrounding the chapel to apprehend Fist. In addition to the issues with Fist’s portrayal and for reasons I do not understand, Sandy, the character least associated with the storyline in that moment, suddenly drops to the floor behind a pew and begins crawling offstage on all fours. Why?
There are 11 characters coming on and off in various couplings, so the positioning of the actors needs to be carefully organized and logical. Some of the staging is curious. In another instance, Sandy is seated downstage during a dialogue between Fiona and Garrett. She has no lines, no movement. She simply sits and watches them, as if she were a member of the audience. Why position the actor to sit onstage with nothing to say or do? It felt like an eternity. There are better ways of having her present, active and within earshot without pulling focus.
To boot, Joseph L. Taylor II’s fight choreography is poorly executed.
It is possible to overcome a weak script. It’s even possible to overcome poor directing and unfocused acting. Packaged together though, it’s not a happy marriage.