The Late Wedding doesn’t have a traditional plot. Instead, the play is more like a lesson plan: Its central theme is introduced and explained methodically, and then the audience is exposed to more complicated examples. Until the end, when, using all it’s learned, the audience gets to understand its final exquisite moments.
Nick DePinto kicks off the show as the Narrator, delivering a second-person monologue describing the audience’s experience watching the show begin and explaining its inspiration. “You remember reading about the play early today,” to paraphrase an example, “You remember that it was inspired by an old Italian book, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.” DePinto’s delivery is so natural, a couple of audience members in the performance I saw spoke back!
Calvino’s Invisible Cities is the story of Marco Polo telling stories to Kublai Khan of the many exotic cities in the Khanate. Similarly, the Narrator literally becomes an anthropologist, describing the exotic (and fictional) marriage traditions he has studied. These strange cultures are the building blocks for the new language that playwright Christopher Chen is teaching the audience.
It doesn’t take being married yourself to identify deeply with the often harmful behaviors that the anthropologist has discovered. Jacob Yeh and Gwen Grastorf play the first couple, obsessed with the past. They are completely lost in dreamy nostalgia until a faulty memory hurls them into a crisis. Grastorf and Yeh share a great energy, perfectly in sync with each other even as their characters go from totally sedate to clear panic.
Matthew Pauli and Tamieka Chavis then show two very different responses to their culture’s unique tradition: Going as long as possible after the wedding without seeing your spouse again – an extreme take on “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Pauli plays a true believer, willing to go so far as to find a fake wife rather than ruin the sanctity of his true marriage’s distance, even as Chavis’s character crumbles under the abandonment. While director Kathryn Chase Bryer generally keeps an air of comedy, or at least absurdism, to shield the audience, this one scene feels brutally real, due in large part to Pauli’s ability to accept the absurd and give an authentic reaction with conviction, even as he advocates having a child with his fake wife.
The marriage ritual scenes are often enhanced with dance and with music, sometimes performed by the multi-talented cast. Another common thread are the hats. Costume designer Frank Labovitz gives each actor an unobtrusive, all-white outfit, but each spouse gets a wildly inventive headpiece, from jewel-adorned propeller beanies to nests holding souvenirs, as in the case of Yeh and Grastorf’s first scene.
Two more anthropologist scenes explore the follies of self-imposed detachment and over-analysis, lulling the audience into expecting the play just to be a variety show of pithy scenes of unhappy marriages. However, Chen takes a hard left by dropping the audience into a spy thriller in medias res while keeping the common thread of comedy. Carolyn Kashner plays a spy who has forgotten her half of the code phrase and makes a scene in the middle of a train station begging her handler to believe she is not a double agent.
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The Late Wedding
closes May 7, 2017
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Here, DePinto swoops in as Narrator to explain, again in second-person, that you remember that the rest of The Late Wedding was cobbled together from spare notes of unfinished stories. Kashner’s farcical spy becomes much more serious as she gives her politically radical wife an ultimatum: The revolution or me.
Forced into hiding to escape both her wife’s revolution and her government handler, Kashner’s spy hands the focus off to Grastorf, playing an innkeeper locked in a game of hide-and-seek with her husband so extreme that they haven’t seen each other in years. Chen’s outlandish scenario is entrancing when explained by Grastorf, even with the frequent asides to DePinto critiquing the writing and making editorial notes.
Here, The Late Wedding’s audacity begins to pay off. This story of hide-and-seek traces clearly back to Pauli and Chavis’s ever-distant couple, allowing the audience to use the first few scenes to contextualize the rest of the show.
The disjointed second half takes a trip to outer space, then into a play-within-a-play, and finally down to the Calaman Islands, where two playwrights narrate as one comes to meet her distant wife after years apart. Everything up to that moment has been Chen teaching the audience how to fully interpret that meeting, using the language taught by the anthropologist and demonstrated by the spies, the innkeeper, the astronauts, and the fictional actors. I would tell you more, but you simply have to see it for yourself.
The Late Wedding. Written by Christopher Chen. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer. Performed by Tamieka Chavis, Nick Depinto, Gwen Grastorf, Carolyn Kashner, Matthew Pauli, and Jacob Yeh. Scenic design by Kathryn Kawecki. Lighting design by Mary Keegan. Sound design by Chris Lane. Costume design by Frank Labovitz. Props design by Amy Kellett. Produced by the Hub Theatre. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.