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John Pankow and Julie White in Barbra’s Wedding
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Barbra Streisand and James Brolin had media-circus nuptials and seem to be living happily ever after, but the actor-turned-playwright Daniel Stern has decided that the rest of us must suffer. His torture of choice is a comedy called Barbra's Wedding, in which a couple called Jerry and Molly Schiff bicker while helicopters attendant to the nearby affair roar over the Schiffs' down-scale Malibu home, shaking the flimsy walls and causing pots to fall.

The purpose of Stern's laugh-deprived play seems to be to show how, with Henry Kissinger and James Caan (or was that Jackie Mason?) and maybe even Gwyneth Paltrow arriving for the big event, the nobodies next door can yell at each other over the noise during the preparation of a fish coulibiac and the subsequent clean-up. They insult each other, threaten to split, eventually kiss and make and up, and even renew their vows as the strains of "Here Comes the Bride" waft in from over Barbra's way.

How anyone -- other than Stern, presumably -- could find the two-hander funny, and why Dodger Stage Holding would deign to produce it in association with Manhattan Theatre Club, will have to remain a mystery. This is the kind of show in which the actors wave their arms and bug their eyes incessantly in order to suggest some semblance of life. "Thicken," Molly shouts at the sauce she's stirring as the play begins. It doesn't thicken, nor does the plot. Instead, this is the kind of work in which one character says something outlandish and the other repeats it with grimacing disbelief. As in:

JERRY: ... like you're swimming to shore to get away from the Nazis.
MOLLY: The Nazis?
JERRY: And I'd just come from that audition, too.
MOLLY: You came from an audition?
MOLLY: We were married by a rabbi.
JERRY: He was barely a rabbi anyway.
MOLLY: Barely a rabbi?

Is there an echo in here? Incidentally, the Schiffs are a mixed-religion household. He's Jewish and called Jerry, and she's probably meant to be Irish since she's got red hair. This could put some ticket buyers in mind of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, whose early stand-up routines were about a Jewish man courting and marrying a Catholic woman. The difference, of course, is that Stiller and Meara alter egos Hershel Horowitz and Mary Elizabeth Doyle were funny and real, whereas Jerry and Molly Schiff are -- as she labels him at one exasperating moment -- pathetic.

John Pankow in Barbra’s Wedding
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Although it takes close to 40 minutes of this 80-minute fiasco before anything truly dramatic happens (as opposed to much that's frantic), it eventually becomes clear that the Schiff marriage has been under a strain because Jerry, an actor who was once a regular on a sitcom called Everything's Peachy, has been out of work for too long and Molly, earning $21,000 per annum as a librarian, is sick of his sitting home and complaining. Fed up (not with the inedible coulibiac), she packs her valise but then can't leave because Arnold Schwarzenegger's Humvee is blocking the driveway. (Given Jerry's poison-ality, she should have strapped the damned bag to her back and walked.)

For the record, John Pankow and Julie White -- both of whom have toiled in sitcoms themselves and are therefore in a position to know exactly how dismal this script is -- play Jerry and Molly as if they were actually in something good; the ubiquitous and usually astute David Warren directed; Neil Patel designed a set that jibes with what Molly calls "the crappiest house in Malibu"; David C. Woolard rounded up the few costumes (Jerry gets most of the way into a white tuxedo because he thinks -- get this -- that Robert Redford has beckoned him to join the wedding festivities); Jeff Croiter did the lighting (outside the Schiff hovel, night falls on Malibu); and Fitz Patton pumped up the sound (i.e., the helicopters). All of the above personnel have worthy credits and are involved here for reasons that, perhaps, their accountants can explain.

In short -- and, at 80 minutes, Barbra's Wedding isn't nearly short enough -- Daniel Stern's maiden effort is definitely not like buttah. (P.S.: This production is playing at the Westside Theatre/Downstairs, where two poles way down front in the center section obscure views of the stage for patrons seated house left or house right. For most shows, that would be an annoyance; for this one, not being able to see all of the action all of the time might be considered a relief.)

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