By Elizabeth Chorney-Booth
We’ve all been at weddings where high drama has ensued, thanks to the antics of colourful guests and family members. When two families that barely know each other are thrown together for an emotionally charged (and perhaps alcohol-fueled) shindig, the results can feel positively theatre-worthy.
That’s the idea behind Alberta Theatre Projects’ 2019-2020 season opener The Wedding Party, directed by the company’s Executive and Artistic Director Darcy Evans. The rollicking production details the union of a young couple through the interactions of their contrasting families: the affluent Sealy-Skeeters and more rough ‘n’ tumble Boychuks. Full of all of the outrageous and cringe-worthy moments that make a wedding celebration so fun to attend, the show invites the audience to eavesdrop on a hilariously off-the-rails wedding reception.
“Take every single crazy wedding story you have — with happy people, crying people, angry people — and throw them all together. That’s what you get with this show,” Evans says. “Every drunken, emotional, wacky wedding story that you’ve encountered happens in this play.”
Originally staged by Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, ATP’s production is the first entirely new production of the script written by Canadian playwright and actress Kristen Thomson. Thomson developed all the characters in collaboration with the original production’s actors, creating a fast-paced and ingeniously crafted script. Evans changed a few of the references (the families are from Calgary and Okotoks), but otherwise the ATP show is true to the source material.
Part of what makes The Wedding Party so frantically funny is the casting: the play’s six actors are tasked to play over two dozen different wedding guests, ranging from the parents of the bride and groom to a family dog (which has its own seat at a table). Christopher Hunt, who has previously starred in 26 ATP productions, and his five co-stars cycle on and off the stage, constantly changing costumes and characters in a series of marathon performances. The quick dialogue and often over-the-top characters give the show a sense of madcap energy.
“It truly is an ensemble piece,” Evans says. “We have men playing women and women playing men; they play all ages and they play different nationalities. Chris Hunt plays twins, who are actually in a scene together. Imagine one actor having to play a scene with himself.”
Obviously this all takes tremendous stamina on the part of the performers, but Evans gives them a built-in energy boost coming from the audience itself. For the first time since 1997 when ATP staged Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave, the Martha Cohen Theatre will be reconfigured into cabaret-style seating so that audience members sitting on the orchestra level will be at round tables, giving them the feeling that they’re part of the wedding party themselves. The first five feet of the stage has been removed for a more intimate feel and the cast plays throughout the theatre, often amongst members of the audience. There are even audience tables right on the stage for ticket-holders who really want to be extra close to the action.
“The cabaret tables have been selling really fast so we immediately knew that people were very excited about the space being blown up this way,” Evans says. “The Martha Cohen Theatre is so flexible in that we can configure it to do whatever we want to support the play. The great thing about this play is that we’re not just arbitrarily doing the cabaret seating, but that it actually supports the setting, the energy, and the action of the show.”
The expertly composed theatricality of the script and the virtuosity of the players make The Wedding Party an exciting ticket for theatre lovers who will appreciate the mechanics of great theatre. But ultimately, the show is also meant to entertain and show both ATP regulars and new theatre-goers how fun a night at the theatre can be.
“One of the things that we really learned from last season’s production of The New Canadian Curling Club is that if we give people a real event experience, they’ll come to the theatre,” Evans says. “This is better than Netflix. This is better than watching a movie on your phone or laptop. The only way to experience this is to be there live. We truly try to give the audience a new experience with each production.”
The Wedding Party runs at the Martha Cohen Theatre September 11-29, 2019. Book your tickets online or by phone at 403.294.7402.