By Kristen Thomson. Directed by Ann Hodges. An Arts Club Theatre Company production, in partnership with Prairie Theatre Exchange. At the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre on Wednesday, March 4. Continues until March 22
The underlying chaos of a wedding is in the tension of families forced together because two people fall for each other and decide to celebrate their union with a legally binding contract. In other words, it’s the perfect setting for a comedy—particularly one about class warfare, love, and familial dysfunction.
Toronto playwright Kristen Thomson mines this territory reasonably well in The Wedding Party, which features a sprawling cast of characters, but only six actors, meaning each cast member is playing multiple roles. In a smart move, Sherry and Jack Jr., the wedded couple, are only mentioned and seen in shadow or from behind in video projections. We find out three things immediately: Sherry and Jack Jr. had a whirlwind romance; Jack Jr.’s family is very rich and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this wedding; and secretly Jack Sr. (Todd Thomson is not thrilled about the match. He believes Sherry and her family are beneath him, even as he’s cracking jokes about the size of his new daughter-in-law’s breasts and trying to put on a show of how worldly he is, particularly compared to Maddy (Jane Spidell), Sherry’s mom, whose insecurities and “big mouth” are exacerbated by her fondness for alcohol.
When Maddy overhears Jack Sr. trash-talking Sherry, the façade of politeness crumbles and they go head to head. High jinks ensue when Tony, Jack Sr.’s long-estranged identical twin, shows up. Tony and Maddy bond and flirt, and Jack Sr.’s wife, Margaret (Luisa Jojic), can’t tell the brothers apart. Conflicts escalate and reach a fever pitch when Sherry and Jack Jr. take off and the wedding party is left to deal with the fact that they’ve maybe ruined the couple’s day.
The entire cast works well together, and each actor has at least one moment in which they get to really earn the spotlight, but the standout is Spidell as Maddy. Drunk, single, working-class mother of the bride could be a mess of stereotypes in another actor’s hands, but Spidell brings the necessary nuance and humanity, transforming Maddy into a complex, fierce, funny, and sympathetic character.
There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments throughout The Wedding Party, but the play is not as comedically sharp as it could be. Some of the jokes are so old and tired that they feel like relics of a different era, whereas other scenes are so absurdist and clever that they’re a total delight. With so much going on, the pace needs to be brisk, and slightly tighter direction could make the farcical elements feel fresher. But thanks to some inspired performances and genuinely hilarious moments, The Wedding Party mostly lives up to its name.