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At the Wedding

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - March 21, 2022

Mary Wiseman
Photo by Marc J. Franklin
Playwright Bryna Turner's At the Wedding, opening tonight at Lincoln Center Theater at the Claire Tow Theater, is a comedy that manages to be both waggishly witty and tenderly affecting as it peels back to reveal the underlying loneliness of its acerbic protagonist.

As the title suggests, the play takes place at a wedding reception, one that has been crashed by Carlo (Mary Wiseman), the ex-girlfriend of the bride, Eva (Rebecca S'manga Frank). The breakup had been especially hard on Carlo, and judging from what we observe over the course of the evening, she is still living at the Heartbreak Hotel. That Eva has opted to marry a man has only salted the wounds.

But what makes At the Wedding so effective is that, on the whole, it is not a pity party. Carlo never makes an explosive scene or dissolves into a pool of woe, even if she does come dangerously close on both counts, her inner turmoil perfectly mirrored in the way her blue suit and flyaway red hair seem to melt on her over time.

Mostly, she hangs out on the periphery of the reception, interacting with old friends, the occasional frenemy, and even strangers, her tongue set free by the inhalation of a great deal of alcohol. Carlo is an equal opportunity kibitzer, freely offering up her garrulous commentary to any and all. In real life, we might find her to be someone we'd want to avoid, but, damn, she is quick with the catty quip. And, really, how can you not laugh when she lays a zinger on one of the bridesmaids, Carly (Keren Lugo), who has made an offhand remark about how beautiful the wedding ceremony was. "Honestly?" Carlo says. "Just between us gal pals? Did it seem aggressively heterosexual to you? Like, I almost thought they were going to start checking for her hymen right there in front of us."

Undoubtedly, it may be a challenge to get a word in edgewise when you're trying to converse with Carlo. But one of the beauties of this production is that the entire cast is completely in sync, regardless of how much or how little they get to say in her presence. I love that Carly, whom Carlo clearly disdains, is the one who comforts her in a rare tearful moment. I also love the quirkiness of the nerdy English teacher Eli (Will Rogers), who regales Carlo with his insights on Coleridge's poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." And the pansexual Leigh (Han Van Sciver), who tries to tempt her to leave the reception for some "carpe diem" fun time.

The entire setup, with its arrangement of self-contained dialogues, works perfectly here because it fits so well with the wedding reception theme. It is based on what you'd expect: table hopping, conversations at the bar, chats at the food table, and so forth. The same is true of Maruti Evans's set design, with multiple doors that perhaps give the suggestion of a farce, but which open and close most appropriately to allow us to see into the main hall where most of the guests are dancing the night away, while letting others, dressed in Oana Botez's perfect-for-the-occasion costumes, move into and out of the area where the main action is taking place around Carlo. Director Jenna Worsham does a lovely job of arranging the performers and the action so that it all has the proper feel for the play.

By the end of At the Wedding, Carlo remains in a place where neither she nor we can be certain of her future. If I may put on my own nerdy English teacher's hat, it is as Samuel Beckett wrote in his novel "The Unnamable," of the seemingly inescapable anguish of its narrator: "You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on." Carlo must go on until she can learn to ease her heartache.

At the Wedding
Through April 17, 2022
Lincoln Center Theater, Claire Tow Theater, 150 West 65th Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: