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Thursday, April 20, 2017

'The Late Wedding': a theatrical gem at the Hub

Carolyn Kashner, Matthew Pauli, Gwen Grastof, and Nick DePinto. [C. Stanley Photography]
Once again, Artistic Director Helen Murray and the Hub Theatre in Fairfax 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 D.C. area.

From what has to be a huge pile of possible plays to produce, the Hub has found a fascinating little gem. This gem, “The Late Wedding,” by Christopher Chen is smack in the Hub wheelhouse. The play, running through May 7, is a provocative one-act, composed with a unique theatrical structure, about the mystery and challenges of love in all its permutations.

Jacob Yeh and Gwen Grastof in a scene from "The Late Wedding." [C. Stanley Photography]
Director Kathryn Chase Bryer has an artful, well-honed “please follow me down this rabbit hole” attitude. She 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. (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: Temieka Chaves, Nick DePinto, Gwen Grastof, Carolyn Kashner, Matthew Pauli, and Jacob Yeh. 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 one another.

Each 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, where they carry on 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, it might seem a tad actorly.

“The Late Wedding” took me into relationships I could identify with, though without the funny hats; relationships that are humorous or dramatic, but real.

Just don’t go to “The Late Wedding” expecting a traditional plot or a play without hidden aspects to ferret out. You can expect a lively, scrappy production with some scenes having more oxygen than others. It is a very well-accomplished production from a smaller suburban Northern Virginia theater company willing to take risks. Applause to that!

Where and when: “The Late Wedding” is performed at the New School, 9431 Silver King Court, Fairfax, through May 7. Shows are Fridays, April 21, 28, and May 5 at 8 p.m.; Saturdays, April 22, 29, and May 6 at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sundays, April 23, 30, and May 7 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $32 ($22 for students and seniors). Buy tickets online, at the door, or call the box office, 703-674-3177.

This post is based on a review that appeared in DC Metro Arts April 16.

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