December 21, 2014

Wedding traditions are past perfect in ‘Black Tie’

Square One Theatre production runs through June 1

Alisson Wood, Janet Rathert and David Victor in a scene from ‘Black Tie’ at Square One Theatre Company in Stratford.

Anyone planning or going to a wedding must see A.R.Gurney’s “Black Tie” at the Square One Theatre Company in Stratford. Even though Gurney has dipped his pen in his indelible “WASPish” fare, this play’s reach extends far beyond the traditions of “White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.” With director Tom Holehan’s sharply staged production and with a finely honed cast, this show is definitely first rate.

Though the play is slow to start and a bit talky, the fun begins when Curtis, the father of the groom, calls on his deceased father for advice regarding Curtis’s upcoming rehearsal-dinner speech. His father, seen only by Curtis and the audience, does offer some very classic WASP advice, but soon learns that things have changed when it comes to wedding traditions. Gurney shows how even the most staid have to realize that time indeed continues to march on, but with a whole new beat.

Alisson Wood, Janet Rathert and David Victor in a scene from ‘Black Tie’ at Square One Theatre Company in Stratford.

Alisson Wood, Janet Rathert and David Victor in a scene from ‘Black Tie’ at Square One Theatre Company in Stratford.

John Bachelder manages to play the prim, proper, and stuffy father with a dash of superiority and a generous helping of likeability. It works like a charm. When he quotes from Chaucer, Lord Byron, and other literary figures, Bachelder is as confident as he is smoothly suave. David Victor as Curtis wants to continue the family traditions, even though they are classically formal. His wife Mim, played with spicy charm by Janet Rathert, comes from the same stock as her husband, but recognizes that their son’s wedding doesn’t call for the formal fanfare. She complains that Curtis sounds too much like his father.

As Curtis takes notes from Dad on organizing a “spontaneous” speech, he is interrupted by his daughter Elsie, played by Alisson Wood, who plays the go-between “messenger” of what is going on with the young crowd gathered downstairs in a less-than-elegant Adirondacks lodging and the parents’ scene upstairs. Ms. Wood is a typical daughter with just the right amounts of attitude and respect to make her performance a winner. The seating arrangement that Mim worked so hard at has been changed, the bride’s ex-husband insists on performing his professional stand-up comedy routine, and Teddy, played with appropriate excitability by Jim Buffone, finally tells his father that there won’t be time for the traditional father speech.

What makes this Gurney play so easy to enjoy is that underneath all the dissension from tradition, there is a warm understanding that prevails from both the younger and the older generation. When Curtis gives his son Teddy the “love test,” the wedding’s focus is properly placed on love.

Al Kulcsar’s set realistically captures an Adirondacks lodge, with lighting by Cliff Fava and sound by Don Henault. This production runs through June 1 at the Stratford Theatre, 2422 Main Street. Box office: 203-375-8778.

 

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS and CBS-CT.  She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com