Saturday, September 26, 2015

Always a critic

It's no secret that my theater-going has slowed down from 75-100 shows a season to barely a couple dozen these past two years, thanks mostly to health issues and a heavy workload in 2013 and 2014. But as I looked through the list of shows I did see in recent years, I discovered I've been to Two Muses in West Bloomfield more than any other. Why that's so is easy to explain: They do consistently good work, and Diane Hill regularly invites me to their performances.

So as I gear up to resume the role of cranky critic and all-around theater gadfly - both for and elsewhere - it came as no surprise that I found myself last weekend back at Two Muses to check out "Always A Bridesmaid," a comedy it co-produced with The Dio, where it recently ran as a dinner theater show. From what I heard through the grapevine (and on Facebook, of course), its run in Pinckney was quite popular, with many sold-out performances - and I can see why: Frothy comedies usually do well at dinner theaters, as people want to be entertained rather than emotionally challenged between the main course and dessert. And "Always a Bridesmaid" certainly fits that description.

The question I had, then, was how would the show translate to an audience that's become used to comedies and dramas with more of a bite to them? (Two Muses' previous two productions were "Clybourne Park" and "God of Carnage.")

Well, I'm happy to report the audience seated around me laughed at all the right places and - thanks to my eavesdropping - everyone seemed to enjoy the production quite a bit.

And for good reason: "Always a Bridesmaid" is an entertaining show! And if there's a standout performer, it's Sonja Marquis.

The story of four high-school girlfriends who take an oath on the night of their senior prom to always stand-up in each others' weddings, Marquis is simply delicious as the out-going, but self-centered Monette who tests everyone's patience and loyalty through multiple marriages - many of which were her own. But as husbands come and go, the girls learn one important lesson: Close friends truly are forever - even if they drive you crazy!

Despite it fulfilling Two Muses' mission of providing opportunities for women theater artists - it's a six-person, all-female cast - "Always a Bridesmaid" is not a typical Two Muses production; rather, it's the theatrical equivalent of a "chick flick," which I don't associate with the theater. (Not that there's anything wrong with "chick flicks" - they have their place in the entertainment pantheon. But Two Muses aims higher than that.)

All six women handle their material quite well, however, and Steve DeBruyne's direction mines every laugh possible from the script. I did, through, find myself momentarily distracted by his casting choices. (Not to offend anyone, but I didn't believe for a second that the four best friends were high-school seniors together.)

And unless I missed a major plot point, I'm not sure why authors Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten placed their comedy in the South; nothing about the production seems to require specific geographic placement. (The story wouldn't be harmed one bit if the women were located in Seattle, Los Angeles, Newark or Detroit; if it was, the actresses wouldn't have to bother with those pesky Southern accents.)

The set by Bill Mandt is charming - my grandmother had similar wallpaper in her flat - and Norma Polk's costumes help define each character.

So what's my bottom line? I've never been disappointed with a show at Two Muses, and that trend continues with "Always a Bridesmaid." And I can't wait to see what Diane and company do with "The Light in the Piazza" that opens Nov. 6. (I'm also hoping to catch The Dio's current show, "The Drowsy Chaperone," which runs through Oct. 18. I've heard nothing but great things about it!)

For more information about "Always a Bridesmaid," CLICK HERE.

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