Review: ‘Maids of Honor’ at Unquiet Theatre Company

With a title like Maids of Honor one would expect romantic comedy “scmoop” and wedding hi-jinks, but if you had ever seen a production at Unquiet Theatre before, you would know that things are never as you expect them to be.

(From L to R): Danny Waldman (Joel Silverman), Daniel Calderon (Harry Hobson), Ali Parisi (Annie Bowlin), Jennifer Post (Monica Bowlin), Caity Brown (Izzy Bowlin), Justin Catches (Roger Dowling), and Lincoln Sklar (Pat Weinhardt). Photo by Brittany Williams.
(From L to R): Danny Waldman (Joel Silverman), Daniel Calderon (Harry Hobson), Ali Parisi (Annie Bowlin), Jennifer Post (Monica Bowlin), Caity Brown (Izzy Bowlin), Justin Catches (Roger Dowling), and Lincoln Sklar (Pat Weinhardt). Photo by Brittany Williams.

Playwright Joan Casademont’s 1991 play about 3 sisters coming together for the oldest sister’s wedding uses the façade of wedding to deal with family dysfunction and how past traumas and abuse manifests itself forever after. Each sister deals with the abuse of their alcoholic father and the early abandonment of their mother— who died when they were young— in their own way. It manifests itself in how they see themselves and their ability to love and be loved differently, as each character, each sister is completely unique and also familiar.

Isabelle Bawlin, the youngest sister, played by Caity Brown, is impulsive, vulgar and desperate to succeed and prove to herself and the world (especially her oldest sister) that she can be something. The middle sister, Annie, played by Ali Parisi, does what middle sisters do; she mitigates, goes in between, and puts her own thoughts and feelings aside.

Monica, the oldest sister and bride-to-be, played by Jennifer Post is a successful talk show journalist desperate to “have it all” and rise above her upbringing before it’s too late. Even if that means sacrificing happiness and love to achieve.

There are a lot more characters and storylines—maybe a few too many for one play—but the three central female characters, the story that connects them, and the actors that play them are what you hang on to. What ties it all together is the angst, drama and a fair few laughs that only family dysfunction can produce.

Brown plays Isabelle (Izzy) with her whole body and you can feel her need for approval in every arm wave and facial expression. She is brash, immature and tries too hard, but the actor makes her real and not a caricature. Parisi doesn’t just play Annie, she becomes her. There’s not a moment were you don’t absolutely believe she’s not barely holding it together and stunted in her own relationships by her childhood.

Post, as Monica, is very reminiscent of Holly Hunter in both the way that she portrays so much under her skin, the mixture of fragile and strong, broken and stubborn and in her tone of voice, lilt and subtle accent.

While the script is a mix of too much and too little backstory, too much and too little character development and sometimes contradictory motivations. Director Katy Chmura does a good job of focusing and centralizing what is important in the story she tries to tell. Chmura has done this in the actors chosen as much as in the the costuming and sets she’s designed, for yes, Chmura is also the Costume and Set Designer (she might also run concession during intermission at some performances).

While the Founder of the theater also wears many, many other hats as they do in Community Theatre, and the venue screams that as well, the sets and production tell a different story.

 (From L to R): Jennifer Post (Monica Bowlin), Ali Parisi (Annie Bowlin), Caity Brown (Izzy Bowlin), and Danny Waldman (Joel Silverman). Photo by Brittany Williams.
(From L to R): Jennifer Post (Monica Bowlin), Ali Parisi (Annie Bowlin), Caity Brown (Izzy Bowlin), and Danny Waldman (Joel Silverman). Photo by Brittany Williams.

Chmura, Stage Manager Cambrey Hameedi and their team Natalie Foley, Timothy MacDonald, James Maxted, Hayley Jessup, Brittany Williams, Aaron Verchot-Ware and Caleb Stine did a superb job of using the intimate space to the play’s advantage. The set is simple and never changing, but you get the sense that every knick-knack, every tissue box was chosen with purpose. They all hint of a life half lived and waiting, they all hint to a desperate façade of normal.

And while the stage is raised and separated from the audience, giving a comfortable distance from the family dysfunction playing out before the eyes, there was a part of the stage that was right there on the audience’s level. Right there in your face, personal and a bit unsettling. But, by then, you’re already invested anyway, so it seems natural that you’re in the midst of it, living it right there with the characters.

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Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Maids of Honor plays through July 23, 2016 at Unquiet Theatre Company performing at The LAB at Convergence – 1819 Quaker Lane, in Alexandria, Va. For tickets, purchase them online.

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Tamela J. Ritter.

Tamela J. Ritter received her degree in journalism from The University of Montana back before the internet was a thing. She covered the Arts and Entertainment beat in Fairfield Connecticut before moving to Northern Virginia, where she turned her pen to fiction. Her first book From These Ashes was published in 2013.