A Perfect Wedding

Two simultaneous world premieres -- the opening of the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City and the debut production of a new farce by Charles Mee -- produced differing results. The beautifully designed 300-seat theater is a hit, and Mee's "A Perfect Wedding" is the right kind of off-kilter vehicle for a theater dedicated to original, experimental works.

With:
Edmund - Tony Abatemarco Dieter - Jim Anzide Father Thane - Julian Barnes Ariel - Melody Butiu Francois - Mark Capri Heiner - Jon David Casey Tessa - Jennifer Elise Cox Julian - Wilson Cruz Amadou - Harry Dillon Isaac - John Fleck Vikram - Brian George Bob - Katherine Griffith Djamila - Veralyn Jones Meridee - Ruth Livier James - Leo Marks Karl - Raymond O'Connor Jonathan - Jason Peck Willy - Dileep Rao Maria - Cristine Rose Frank - James Sutorius

Two simultaneous world premieres — the opening of the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City and the debut production of a new farce by Charles Mee, creator of such comedies as “Summertime,” “Wintertime” and “Big Love” — produced differing results. The beautifully designed 300-seat theater is a hit, and Mee’s “A Perfect Wedding” is the right kind of off-kilter vehicle for a theater dedicated to original, experimental works. But “Wedding” is the author in second gear; the pleasant, moderately entertaining tale of befuddled lovers coasts along agreeably until it loses focus in a talky, ill-conceived second act.

Mee, who drew from sources as varied as Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” medieval poet Gottfried von Strassburg and Soap Opera Digest, has a distinctive, overriding quality as a writer — a grasp of love’s contradictions and how they impact straight, gay, interracial, spiritual and parental relationships. And co-directors Gordon Davidson and Yehuda Hyman are working with an impeccable cast.

They bring on a group of batty eccentrics: Meridee (Ruth Livier), a young bride who introduces her Indian fiance, Amadou (Harry Dillon), to her mother, Maria (Cristine Rose); her mother’s “special friend,” Francois (Mark Capri); her gay father, Frank (James Sutorius); and Frank’s life partner, Edmund (Tony Abatemarco).

Amadou, frazzled by his future mother-in-law’s tactless definition of him as swarthy and Turkish, has run off into the woods before he’s humiliated by his mother (Veralyn Jones) discussing her circumcision in queasily intimate detail. While everyone searches for him, Davidson and Hyman keep the actors in constant motion, but the hyperactivity often feels more laborious than laugh-provoking. Meridee encounters her sister Tessa’s boyfriend, James (Leo Marks), and grabs him passionately, then responds sexually to her brother’s girlfriend, Ariel (Melody Butiu). This encounter, in which the two women roll, race and spin across the stage, is the show’s directorial peak.

In human terms, however, Marks’ cautious, bumbling James is the only individual with depth and dimension, and it’s unsatisfying that he becomes the sole character to wind up stranded and alone.

Mee’s story piles on a gang of cartoons: four gay wedding planners (in triumphantly silly costumes by Christal Weatherly) and two undertakers who blabber incessantly and cast a pall over the enterprise. As a result, act two comes off as a different play altogether, lingering on Frank’s mother — who was supposed to conduct the marriage ceremony before her demise — and her subsequent, protracted funeral.

This situation leads to hammy histrionics and over-elaboration of an offstage character never seen. The main couple-pairing plot mechanism returns like a delayed afterthought, and the choices made are arbitrary and contrived.

The most inspired bits stem from unexpected sources. As Father Thane, a priest who fantasizes about heterosexual sex (“People these days assume that because you’re a priest, you want to have sex with them in some way”), Julian Barnes has a hilarious scene that he underplays to perfection. The groom’s father, Vikram (Brian George) also nets hearty laughs, reflecting on his lust for young girls in Catholic outfits.

Alternately playful and ponderous, “Wedding” wavers between a mud fight that isn’t chaotic or explosive enough, and a final Bollywood dance (delightfully choreographed by Christine Kellogg) that charges the atmosphere with electricity frequently missing from the rest of the production.

A Perfect Wedding

The Kirk Douglas Theater; 300 seats; $40 top

Production: A Center Theater Group presentation of a play in two acts by Charles Mee. Directed by Gordon Davidson and Yehuda Hyman.

Crew: Sets, Donna Marquet; costumes, Christal Weatherly; lighting, D. Martyn Bookwalter; original music and sound, Karl Fredrik Lundeberg; stage manager, Winnie Y. Lok. Opened and reviewed Nov. 7, 2004; closes Nov. 28. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: Edmund - Tony Abatemarco Dieter - Jim Anzide Father Thane - Julian Barnes Ariel - Melody Butiu Francois - Mark Capri Heiner - Jon David Casey Tessa - Jennifer Elise Cox Julian - Wilson Cruz Amadou - Harry Dillon Isaac - John Fleck Vikram - Brian George Bob - Katherine Griffith Djamila - Veralyn Jones Meridee - Ruth Livier James - Leo Marks Karl - Raymond O'Connor Jonathan - Jason Peck Willy - Dileep Rao Maria - Cristine Rose Frank - James Sutorius

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