Sunday, February 21, 2016

Red Door: "Wedding Belles"

The Red Door Theatre in Union Springs recently opened Alan Bailey's and Ronnie Claire Edwards' modest comedy Wedding Belles for a two-weekend run. Directed by Kathryn Adams Wood, it tells the unlikely story of garden-club ladies in the fictitious town of Eufala, TX who in 1942 befriend a young girl who has agreed to meet and marry her fiance there before he ships out to fight in World War II.

Yet another in a string of recent scripts that rely on stereotypical characters and contrived conflicts that usually end with predictable reconciliations, Wedding Belles fulfills all the requisite components: feuding sisters , bossy and controlling Bobrita [Belinda Barto] and the dependent hypochondriac Bible-quoting Violet [Alicia Atkins], often married Glendine [Lisa Norton], and amateur astrologist Laura Lee [Beth Egan] whose reluctance to complete any task signals the state of denial about her husband's death.

For no credible reason, this quartet agree to host a wedding for an orphaned stranger Ima Jean [Charity Smith] who Laura Lee brought home after a chance meeting at the local bus station; this in the midst of arguments about the most important day in their social calendar. Clearly, they are all in need of help, but the dramatic conceit that throws them together as the ladies prepare their annual garden-club gala at Laura Lee's home, is far-fetched.

As the ladies' in-fighting swells, and Ima Jean's fiance Jesse fails to show up, the tension gradually relaxes as they shift focus and begin to face their respective demons and realize the value of friendships new and old. When a phone call informs them that the bridegroom has indeed arrived after hitchhiking his way there instead of taking a bus, the women are more determined than ever to mend their fraying relationships and host a fine wedding for their new friend.

The script contains plenty of references to the time period's "war effort", food rationing and gas coupons, Mrs. Miniver and the Dionne Quintuplets, and has a character's hair done up in rag-curlers. The costumes and furniture have a period feel, but using a recognizable copy of a recent Montgomery Advertiser and modern styrofoam ice-cream bowls spoils the illusion.

Tough the acting ensemble are committed to delineating their characters by emphasizing a specific personality and behavior, their delayed cues slow down the pace to a degree that audiences can anticipate the dialogue before it is spoken.

Reliable themes about friendship and compassion for our fellows are important to emphasize every so often, and it is these gentle reminders that allow audiences to emerge from the theatre with some satisfaction.