Who is that naked woman? Review of Perfect Wedding at Flat Rock Playhouse

If you enjoy a good British sex comedy (and who doesn’t?), or if you’re intrigued by the premise of a farce that starts with a groom-to-be awaking hungover, on his wedding day, in the bridal suite, beside a naked woman he doesn’t know but suspects he slept with the night before — Perfect Wedding, at Flat Rock Playhouse, won’t disappoint.

Professionally written by Robin Hawdon — an accomplished English actor and director of long standing, who had previously found authorial success with almost a dozen plays, including two farces translated from the French — Perfect Wedding was first produced in 1994 and has since been much-produced internationally. The script draws efficiently on comic traditions dating back at least to the ancient Greek satyr plays, the Roman Plautus’ domesticated versions of same, and Shakespeare and Molière’s marvelous variants and extensions, but it may owe its greatest debt to the 1892 play by Brandon Thomas that seems to have set forever the traditional form for comic dramas of confused, thwarted lovers and identity mix-ups: Charley’s Aunt. If you know that play, or any of its numberless descendants, you know what you’re in for (except for the cross-dressing). If not, Perfect Wedding provides a fine introduction.

The plot — mostly an excuse for comic bits and lines, as it should be — revolves around figuring out who the naked woman is and attempting to deal with the increasingly problematic consequences. Among those drawn into the proliferating complications are the best man, who ends up providing services far beyond the usual, a chambermaid who becomes much more involved with her hotel’s guests than she should, a would-be bride who has no idea what she’s in for, a mother who’s more concerned that her daughter marry properly than that she marry her intended, an unseen father who wreaks offstage havoc, and a hotelier driven half mad by all the goings-on. In other words, though well-constructed and occasionally quite clever, Perfect Wedding is standard stuff. But it’s more than good enough to entertain.

To pull it off, a production needs excellent ensemble play, expertly pointed lines and polished physical business. On the whole, this Perfect Wedding gets away with it. The well-matched actors know their way not only around this stage but around this type of material. Scott Treadway brings his trademark hangdog likeability to Bill, the befuddled fiancé; the role doesn’t ask much of him beyond ongoing confusion and modulated frenzy, but he delivers a performance that’s sometimes subtler than it easily could have been. Charlie Flynn-McIver, as the seriously put-upon best man, Bill, inhabits the often-servile attitude required as comfortably as the tuxedo he wears throughout; he also makes the most of a frenzied interest in a cake knife and a dipstick, and all but steals the show by anchoring it so well. Lisa K. Bryant is moving, sexy and funny as Tom’s girlfriend Judy — a neat hat trick. Neela Muñoz, as Julie the chambermaid, proves the fulcrum of this farce, and delivers the low comic goods. Wendy Hayes, as Rachel, Bill’s affianced, and Jane Bushway, as Rachel’s mother Daphne, do well by their less-demanding parts, and Damian Duke Domingue, in a late-play appearance as the hotelier Dupont, pulls out all the stops.

Director Ralph Redpath provides the firm hand the play demands; he knows where all the laughs are buried and digs up almost every one. (To appreciate his gift, keep an eye out for several exemplary short chases around the loveseat.) Now if only it were clear why a toilet brush, though necessary and amusing in its way, is quite so much in evidence. Of course, you can’t have a farce without doors to hide behind and slam, and designer Dennis C. Maulden provides four in a fully realized wedding suite that splits the stage between anteroom and bridal chamber. In fact, all of the technical elements are just right.

All of the technical elements save one: the accents. Although there’s nothing singularly British about this play and its sensibilities, apart from a handful of words that could easily have been changed, the actors assume various British accents that, for the most part, aren’t very good: they come, they go, slip, slide and mutate. This might have worked if the accents had all been consistently over-the-top, like Domingue’s preposterous Frenchman’s. Instead, the actors sound as if they occupy differently accented worlds — a distraction, it seems, for them as well as for the audience.

In the end, one forgives the imprecision and enjoys the more solid skills of the actors, and the pleasure they obviously take in the play and in each other. There are no revelations but comic ones in Perfect Wedding, but as long as one keeps one’s expectations in line, it makes for a perfectly pleasant evening.

Perfect Wedding, by Robin Hawdon. At Flat Rock Playhouse through July 18. Directed by Ralph Redpath. Scenic designer: Dennis C. Maulden. Lighting designer: Michael Mauren. Costume designer: Bridget Bartlett. Sound designer: Joel Thompson. Properties master: Paul G. Feraldi. Technical director: Bruce R. Bailey. Stage manager: Johanna M. Erlenbach. With Lisa K. Bryant (Judy), Scott Treadway (Bill), Charlie Flynn-McIver (Tom), Wendy Hayes (Rachel), Neela Muñoz (Julie), Jane Bushway (Daphne), and Damian Duke Domingue (Dupont).


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