Seven years after Obergefell, the Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage the law of the land in fifty states, more people than ever can enjoy the blessings of a government-sanctioned wedding. And as the variety of socially acceptable couplings (or throuplings) has expanded, it should be easier than ever to settle into a happy adult relationship, right? Maybe not. In the brutally hilarious At the Wedding (now performing at LCT3), Bryna Turner shows that the ancient demons of self-sabotage and regret still bedevil the most modern and liberated of individuals.
Superficially at least, that seems to describe Carlo (Mary Wiseman), a gregarious wiseacre who has unwisely opted to attend the nuptials of her ex-girlfriend Eva (Rebecca S'manga Frank) to a boring dude. Like Dante (but a lot drunker) Carlo journeys through this aggressively heterosexual hell and we get a full picture of the fallen world that brought her here.
We first meet the annoyingly named bridesmaid Carly (Keren Lugo), a longtime frenemy who suggests through gritted teeth that Carlo leave. There's hipster schoolteacher Eli (Will Rogers), who wants to propose to his partner on the dance floor, effectively hijacking a wedding someone else paid for. Maria (Carolyn McCormick) is the mother of the bride, who seems to be taking as little joy in the proceedings as Carlo. But at least she's not Victor (Jorge Donoso), the cater waiter who is singlehandedly running the show. And then there's Leigh (Han van Sciver), an alluring individual with whom Carlo seems to have instant chemistry, and who keeps asking her to ditch the wedding with them. We're left wondering along with Carlo…What's the catch?
Turner (whose works was last seen at LCT3 in Bull in a China Shop) presents this story with unflinching efficiency. Their series of terse two-person scenes recalls the work of Arthur Schnitzler, whose Reigen gleefully pierced Vienna's patina of respectability over a century ago. Turner steadily pulls the camera back on this picture of 21st century matrimonial bliss to show the little compromises and hypocrisies that constitute the price of admission to this oldest of institutions. But most of all, Turner reveals Carlo, an intelligent and deeply flawed individual who uses humor and a shield and judgement as a sword. It shouldn't surprise us that this outwardly cynical individual is, in fact, a hopeless romantic who expects a rom-com happy ending to come from this doomed excursion.
Wiseman proves to be the perfect actor to embody Carlo. Wearing a handsome blue suit (costumes by Oana Botez) and sporting an explosion of red hair for which a rococo woman would pay top livre, she sets the standard for comic timing from her opening monologue. If it was a trailer for a Netflix stand-up special, I would unquestioningly click "play." And yet she also exhibits a remarkable amount of vulnerability, strategically unveiling her wounds and insecurities over the course of the play. Like the playwright, Wiseman knows that the things that haunt us the most are the details left unrevealed.
Jenna Worsham has directed the cast to emotionally resonant performances within an unforgiving dramatic structure that hurtles ever forward, making for a gripping 70 minutes. It all takes place on Maruti Evans's set, which walks the border between impressionistic nightmare and realistic wedding (sometime in the fall, we gather from the color palate). Figures dance like shadows behind the five sets of double doors (Oona Curley's lighting and Fan Zhang's sound simulate an evening in which large segments are lost in a haze of blackout inebriation). The words "til death" hang menacingly (but in elegant script) over the room.
Is a relationship that ends with the death of one of the partners really the romantic ideal for which we should be striving? For so many of us, the answer is still yes, no matter how progressive our attitudes toward sex have become. In one of the more devastating moments of the play, after Carlo accuses Eva of settling for a boring life, Eva earnestly responds, "I hope you have a boring life one day. I really want that for you." In Carlo's stunned gaze, we all realize that she wants that too — and time is running out. At the Wedding is a comedy for anyone who has ever watched their happy ending evaporate in a cloud of smoke and lived to tell the tale.