Michael Paulsen has news for his nearest and dearest; he’s getting married! Word of the impending nuptials is not being taken well, however. You see, Michael is only three months out from ending a serious relationship with David – sweet, talented, exceedingly handsome David. – and his new fiancé – a woman! – is someone no one’s ever met or heard of before. All the signs point to a horrendous rebound, and it must be stopped.
Tying the Knot, written by James L. Beller Jr. and spiritedly directed by Daniel Douek, is being presented at Fells Point Corner Theatre on the Sokal Stage, in association with the Baltimore Playwrights Festival. The play takes a look at the nature of infidelity and the deterioration of relationships with a heavy serving of humor.
The cast is extremely talented. Brian Kraszewski plays Michael, a man who refuses to admit he’s in the midst of a rebound. Mild mannered, adorably unsure of himself, and frequently petulant, there are plenty of opportunities for the character of Michael to be overwhelmed by the intense personalities of his mother and best friend, but Kraszewski brings a backbone, making it clear that even if he’s personally unsure of himself, his decisions are his own and will not be dictated by anyone but himself.
Lance, Michael’s sassy, opinionated, sexually loose best friend, is played by J. Purnell Hargrove. Hargrove may as well be Lance, so involved is his performance. He manages to make a character that could be aggravating and stereotypical and gives him heart and a sense of genuineness.
Nancy Blum plays Michael’s mother, Arlene. The character of Arlene is, in many ways, cut from the same cloth as Lance. They use similar arguments to convince Michael he making a mistake and share much of the same humor, which is explained by way of the two being close friends. Blum has a definite twinkle in her eyes, though, as she leans into Arlene’s craziness, which makes her charming and funny instead of ‘Lance: Part 2.’
David, played by Felix Hernandez, is very much sweet, talented, and exceedingly handsome, as described. Hernandez wears his characters’ heart on his sleeve, letting us see clearly how much Michael hurts him with every casual dismissal of his desire for emotional intimacy.
The Server, played by Claire Malkie, hangs in the background of most of the scenes, reacting humorously to some of the more outrageous bits of dialogue. And Suzanne Young is hilarious as a wise cracking, gender fluid, Catholic priest who aids Michael in his confusing, cross-dressing, subconscious epiphany.
The set, designed by Tony Colavito and constructed by Colavito and Mark Squirek, is largely empty, allowing for quick scene changes with moving furniture and walls. Scene changes between the present and Michael’s memories are achieved through clever use of lighting and music, designed by Charles W. Danforth III and Daniel Douek respectively.
The only problems to be found in Tying the Knot lie in the script itself. It’s a very funny show but it doesn’t always seem to know when to let the joke end. The phone tag bit in the opening sketch, reoccurring references to Michael’s crush on Jake Gyllenhaal, Arlene’s hatred of her ex-husband, the bells-on-the-butt during the dream sequence – all of it is funny the first couple of times.
The synopsis describes the play as putting the stereotypical parental response on its head, but that’s the only stereotype being subverted. The characters are saved from being caricatures solely by the talent of the cast. And while Arlene’s outrageous response to the news of her son’s heterosexual engagement may be funny in this setting, it’s still a hurtful reaction, made funny only because of the novelty in a woman being upset her son is marrying a woman. Were Michael dating a man after a long history of heterosexuality, the audience would consider Lance and Arlene’s attitudes incredibly harmful and alienating.
Overall though, Tying the Knot is a very funny play, which is well-produced and wonderfully performed. I look forward to future productions.
Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including one 15- minute intermission.
Meet the Playwright, Director, and Cast of ‘Tying the Knot’ Part 1: Playwright James L. Beller Jr. by Daniel Douek.
Meet the Playwright, Director, and Cast of ‘Tying the Knot’ Part 2: Brian S. Kraszewski by Daniel Douek.
Meet the Playwright, Director, and Cast of ‘Tying the Knot’ Part 3: Nancy Blum by Daniel Douek.
Meet the Playwright, Director, and Cast of ‘Tying the Knot’ Part 4: J. Hargrove by Daniel Douek.
Meet the Playwright, Director, and Cast of ‘Tying the Knot’ Part 5: Felix Hernandez by Daniel Douek.