Few plays boast six well-rounded roles for female actors. Fewer still could wrest the largest laughs of the night out of a well-heeled wedding planner waving an axe. Always a Bridesmaid, by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, playing at the North Coast Repertory Theatre, manages to deliver on both counts. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of its veteran players and (on the night we attended) a generous, easily tickled audience, there's little to be done with such a clunker of a script.
The story, which takes place over the course of a decade, centers on the vow four middle-aged women made as teenagers to walk one another down the aisle. Despite the vagaries of infidelity, illness, indecision and an exacting venue proprietress/wedding planner (Toodie Boll), they manage to uphold their word. It's four weddings in four acts before the inevitable (spoiler alert) speech about how friendship is forever.
The sitcom-worthy one-liners interspersed with saccharine cliches make sense upon learning playwright Jaimie Wooten wrote for and produced The Golden Girls. Anyone who has watched a romantic comedy about women of a certain age getting their groove back will pick up the familiar beats. There's the nice one, the tomboy, the man-crazy glamourpuss and the career woman. Women worry about being too fat. Men fix cars. Bridesmaid dresses are ugly. Brides are crazy. Women want to go ballroom dancing. Men want to go to monster truck rallies. And — in case you've forgotten — men may come and go, but friendship is forever.
Despite the limitations of the material and an uneven proficiency with Southern accents, the cast provides bright spots. Sarah Traywick, playing a young bride who gets progressively drunker as she sets the scene for each act, delivers lines with a delightful, tipsy warble, drawing the audience into a friendly confidance. Queena Isadora DeLany shines as Monette Gentrey, a self-absorbed diva on her third marriage, preening and prancing and somehow not falling off her ridiculous heels until it's narratively convenient. Speaking of heels, costume designer Jenneveve Hood nails it. Of course the modest, matronly Libby Ruth Ames (Gloria Montgomery) would pick a bridesmaid dress that looks straight out of Little House on the Prairie. A French-themed wedding inspires a can-can outfit, a French maid's uniform and a be-wigged Marie Antoinette. If the all-business Deedra Wingate (Jacqui Cain) weren't forced to mention her career as a judge every two seconds, her no-nonsense slacks and shirt could tell her story just fine. The scene evoking Ugly Bridesmaid Dress Revenge was a total delight. Anyone who has spent her utilities money on a ghastly confection of sequins and flounce that she'll only wear once can hoot at the idea of asking her friend to wear the same dress at her own wedding.
Just after hiking up her formal skirt to reveal plaid golf shorts, tomboyish Charlie Collins (Tracie Dorgan) gives a rousing speech about not needing to marry to be happy, saying she plans to die alone at the age of 100 in a Tahitian beach house, making her boyfriend "so sad he'll have to drop out of college." Any goodwill the speech may have inspired is squelched with a group hug and a reminder — making sure you got this — that friendship is forever. Save a radically re-worked and de-cliched script, the other Hail Mary for this play would be more energy like Toodie Boll's. Playing the afore-mentioned axe-brandishing wedding planner Sedalia Ellicott, Boll hams it up but good, elevating cheese to camp and making good use of broad physical comedy. As with previous performances, Boll wrings the juice out of every line, maintaining character and presence even when she's not in the limelight. If the other performers have the courage not to wobble toward sincerity and, instead, to embrace the more cartoonish aspects of their roles, the audience might be more inclined to put a ring on it.
Mary Poppins opens at the Van Duzer Theatre on July 31. Humboldt Light Opera Company pops its umbrella and takes on the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious musical classic through Aug. 16 with showings Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Call 630-5013 or visit www.hloc.org.
The Ink People's Twelfth Night (or What You Will) hit the boards with the Bard in Redwood Park Aug. 7 through Sept. 5. Hang on for twins, love triangles, cross-dressing and accidental matrimony. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. Call 822-7091 for information.