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Review: ‘The Late Wedding’ at The Hub Theatre

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Once again, Artistic Director Helen Murray and The Hub Theatre are producing a seductive play meant to kindle sparks for adventurous theater-goers. The Hub is constantly on the hunt for small gems from the edge land of plays and playwrights fresh to the DC area. From what has to be a huge pile of possible plays to produce – The Hub Theatre has found a fascinating little gem. The gem is smack in the Hub wheel-house; a script about the mystery and challenges of love, in all its permutations. The play is a provocative one-act composed with a unique theatrical structure entitled The Late Wedding, by Christopher Chen.

Carolyn Kashner, Matthew Pauli, Gwen Grastof, and Nick DePinto. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Playwright Chen is a San Francisco-based playwright with plenty of zip to his resume. He has his share of good notices including honors like the 2017 Lanford Wilson Award; the 2015-2016 Sundance Institute/Time Warner Foundation Fellowship for theater; and the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award.

Playwright Chen’s The Late Wedding (2014) takes the audience to imagined, unknown societies in far off places; always to observe their attitudes toward marital customs like a modern-day Margaret Mead. This is accomplished in about six interconnected scenes of varying time length, rather than a traditional plot. The play also shifts into a Hitchcock-like spy thriller about a revolution before finally taking off into an outer space full of oceans and islands and enlightenment.

Chen’s The Late Wedding is swirling nebula of magical notions put down in a contemporary world. A key note about Chen’s The Late Wedding, it is a riff off of Italian fabulous writer Italo Calvino’s (1923-1985) search for “a” truth through fiction, The Invisible Cites (1972).

So, why have I spend so much space with an introduction of playwright and play to my review? More than he and his play may not be well done at the moment, it is that is how Chen’s The Late Wedding begins. A narrator starts the performance trying to connect by speaking directly to the audience with Calvino’s book in hand. He explains to the audience what to expect. He is friendly and engaging. He works to make the audience comfortable. Then again, he is standing by a chair with a traditional pith helmet from one of those British explorers from the 19th century perched on the chair. Then the play takes off like a slowly burning rocket lifting into the air.

Jacob Yeh and Gwen Grastof. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Director Kathryn Chase Bryer has an artful, well-honed “please follow me down this rabbit hole” attitude. Bryer’s direction of Chen’s words on the page gave me permission to become Dora the Explorer, or some contemporary 21st Century equivalent to Harrison Ford, exploring fascinating myths of lost but absorbing cultures and populated by people who in the end are not so different from the everyday folk I know. (though the characters do wear some nifty hats and head gear with Frank Labovitz credited as costume designer).

In an earlier interview with me, Bryer described The Late Wedding this way:

How many plays do you know where you can go from a scene between two people discussing their marriage and be instantly catapulted into a spy thriller? And yet, it is not confusing, but instead is comical and eye opening.

After seeing the production, I can’t disagree with Byer’s comments. I will add that there is plenty of engaging wordplay, several scenes of deeply felt, quiet allure, along with vignettes of great bombast from characters, both male and female, who take on an alpha role. The scenes are connected with interludes of music in a minimalist set full of moving parts as couples dance to an array of musical numbers from modern club music, to classic tangos, to “Tonight you Belong to Me” as well as Johann Pachelbel’s Canon. Kudos to Sound Designer Chris Lane, Scenic Designer Kathryn Kawecki, and Lighting Designer Mary Keegan for their fine work.

The ensemble of Chen’s characters are portrayed by six terrifically attuned actors in multiple roles. As scenes change and characters shift, the actors easily alter into a new stage presence. No matter the scene or characters or couples depicted, the very diverse ensemble of actors complemented each other.  The local actors are Temieka Chaves, Nick DePinto, Gwen Grastof, Carolyn Kashner, Matthew Pauli, and Jacob Yeh.

The cast of The Late Wedding. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Each of The Late Wedding characters the six-member cast takes on,(with conviction I add) has varying ways to express words, different rhythms, and unique facial patterns and ways to physically present themselves.  Across the scenes, the actors get to be funny at times, sometimes searching, confident one moment and fidgety the next. Oh, and the actors also skillfully play guitars and other string instruments adding lovely musical aspects to nicely underpin a scene.

Adding to the show’s overall pull on me, Chen has characters unsurely ask of themselves and to the audience, “what was it I am trying to say.” In another scene, the actors break into a “listical: kind of thinking. They a private conversation with themselves on a mundane matter such as making a shopping list. I must admit I do that lots (especially when trying to remember what my wife asked me to do a few hours before so I remember to do it). It humanized the characters to me in an unexpected way though for some might seem a tad actorly.

The Late Wedding took me into real relationships I could identify with, though without the funny hats; relationships that are humorous or dramatic, but rather real. Just don’t go to The Late Wedding expecting a traditional plot or a play without hidden aspects to ferret out. Go to the Hub expecting a lively, scrappy production with some scenes having more oxygen than others. It is a very well-accomplished production produced by a smaller suburban Northern Virginia theater company willing to take risks. Applause to that!

At the final black-out, The Late Wedding took me into the beauty of the night sky full of beautiful stars with a message about “hope…and the longing for it” as Pafumi wrote in her program notes. Now that is a great message for today and any day.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Late Wedding plays through May 7, 2017, at The Hub Theatre performing in The New School – 9431 Silver King Court, in Fairfax, VA. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.

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