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Zoey's Perfect Wedding

As the audience filters into the theatre, the DJ (Nick Ducassi) is already bantering and spinning tunes. The beautifully appointed dining table at the wedding reception is gradually populated by three friends—Charlie (Jeff Biel), Sammy (Grayson DeJesus), and Rachel (Mallory Portnoy)—whom the bride, Zoey (Nija Okoro), has known since college. We then meet a young woman, Missy (Kristin Villaneuva), a recent college graduate, who, for lack of work in her chosen field, is thrust into the role of a wedding planner.

Nija Okoro as Zoey
Nija Okoro as Zoey
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
As we learn in the program guide, the story is loosely based on a wedding that the playwright, Matthew Lopez, attended a few years after college, which ended up ruining the night for him and his friends. Lopez also notes that it is easy to be a narcissist at someone else's wedding, that is, making it about oneself—rather than the couple and their family—which we see in spades from all of the characters, save Zoey, whom we excuse from this judgment, since she is the bride and the event is supposed to be mostly about her.

Nick Ducassi as DJ and Kristin Villaneuva as Missy
Nick Ducassi as DJ and
Kristin Villaneuva as Missy
Photo: AdamsVisCom
Ducassi draws our attention immediately. He is a composite of many DJs we've seen, who also serve as the emcee, but have no understanding of their audience or the occassion. He infuses a sense of entitlement around the DJ's comments and the music he chooses to play, with no regard for the honored couple's set list. Of course, this should get anyone fired, and that is exactly what happens when Missy tells him to get lost. Villaneuva's discombobulated Missy is a whirlwind of incompetencies in a job that requires a smooth multitasker who exudes coolness under fire. She's the perfect rookie ringmaster for a disaster in the making.

(Left to right) Grayson DeJesus as Sammy and Jeff Biehl as Charlie
(L to R) Grayson DeJesus as Sammy
and Jeff Biehl as Charlie
Photo: AdamsVisCom
But the interpersonal dysfunction really gets rolling when Charlie, Sammy, and Rachel start swallowing shots as if the hooch was the antidote to a deadly poison they had imbibed; of course, rather than neutralizing the vitriol that is inside of them, their intoxication facilitates the venting of long-repressed psychological and emotional resentments toward each other.

Mallory Portnoy as Rachel
Mallory Portnoy as Rachel
Photo: AdamsVisCom
Rachel, who is a professional wedding planner by trade, kicks off the mêlée by taking the microphone for a toast to the newlyweds, and then shares the ravages of her marriage with the entire reception. Sammy's confessional is to Rachel. He is in a committed relationship with his boyfriend, but thinks nothing of having a quicky with a hot waiter in a hotel guest room—on a bed that Charlie was hoping to use to rekindle his marriage to Rachel.

Despite excellent work by the actors, there is a disconnect between the hefty serving of farcical events and the actual nature of the script, which is not a comedy, despite the playwright's intentions.

Comedy is the most elusive of theatrical elements. While most theatregoers share a sense of tragedy, a sense of humor tends to vary according to the individual. Perhaps some of the confusion over what makes something funny can be attributed to a missing section of Aristotle's Poetics; after all, the great philosopher's take on the elements of tragedy has withstood the test of time.

The master does, however, provide us with some hints regarding the elements of comedy that are consistent in their contradistinction to his specifics on tragedy. Essentially, he begins by contrasting those to whom tragedy occurs—persons of high standing (better than average folks, like Shakespeare's royalty or nobility)—with those to whom comedy is applied—the lowly (below average folk, like Shakespeare's rustics and rude mechanicals). What makes comedic characters lowly is that their ridiculousness is grotesque, in the sense of a subtly distorted, smiling mask. Aristotle also notes that comedic behavior does not inflict real pain (Shakespeare's Malvolio, from Twelfth Night, would dispute this), and that the emotional dynamics of the story end on a high note (like most of Shake-speare's comedies, which end with one or more marriages).

Of course, rules are made to be broken, but when you do so, you had better have a good reason, because the Greeks, in their poetry and drama, were famously tuned-in to the fundamentals of emotion and how to amplify them through dramatic structure and scansion.

Mallory Portnoy as Rachel and Jeff Biehl as Charlie
Mallory Portnoy as Rachel
and Jeff Biehl as Charlie
Photo: AdamsVisCom
Lopez' writing encompasses many funny lines, but in this world premiere, we are more than half-way through the story before we feel any emotional attachment to, or identification with, the characters. Essentially, their bad behavior is wholly derived from drunkenness, revealing the mean-spirited, deceitful, and self-centered forces of their subconscious. By the time the characters begin to establish any emotional connection between each other, such as it may be, it is too late for us to see their situation as funny or poignant. Further, they inflict real pain upon each other, and while the story includes the making of one promising relationship and perhaps the gelling of another, it ends with the intiative of a divorce, rather than a marriage.

So, in the classical sense, this is not a comedy, even if it does have some funny situations and lines. It isn't even a dark comedy, even if one chooses to see it as satire, because what little redemption is evident does not bring the requisite wry smile to the observer. Rather, it is played as a melodrama, much a like a soap opera, where some well-placed electric organ music would have been right at home. But the ending would need to change for such a farce to work, much like Lopez' hit, The Legend of Georgia McBride. Perhaps a bed-trick would be the vehicle to a happy ending.

Lacking those changes, we are left with a drama that is stylistically out of synch with itself.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of Zoey's Perfect Wedding, by Matthew Lopez, runs through February 25th. For tickets: https://www.denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows



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