‘Father of The Bride’ wheezes at The Meadow Brook
By Kent Straith
ROCHESTER HILLS, MI–During the second intermission of the rare three-act stage production of Father Of The Bride, now on stage at Meadowbrook Theatre, I distinctly heard a woman one row back say to her companion, “It’s not as good as I thought it would be. It drones on and on. But it’s cold in Michigan in January, and it’s something to do.” Unless her power was out, she’d have been better off at home.
Father Of The Bride is bad. You will, in the performing arts, often hear someone say “it’s so bad it’s good!” or “it’s bad, but it’s never boring.” Father Of The Bride is bad AND boring. It’s too long, performed on a single fixed set and devoid of a smartly written line.
And I don’t mean in any way to impugn this troupe of very talented actors who do their very best to breathe life into this corpse. Everybody here has chops, and is trying really hard.
This show is what happens when someone sees a movie and thinks “this would make a great play,!” and nobody tells them along the way that “no…it would not make a great play.” The story is firmly rooted in what audiences of 1950 found funny, and not in any way updated for people who never had a poster of Ricky Nelson or Raquel Welch on their bedroom wall. Too, the original film had the likes of Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor to elevate pretty mundane material. While the redo of the original film with Steve Martin playing the father was also not a great choice for the studio, or Mr. Martin, at least the script had some contemporary updates.
Easily the best moment of this afternoon at the theater was when director Travis Walter spoke to the audience before the show and told a few jokes that were far funnier than anything the audience was about to see. At least, I think they were. Not a single person in this production is mic’d up, and it was a strain to hear anything anyone said.
Adapted from the original novel by playwright/screenwriter Caroline Franke (whose Broadway debut occurred during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge), this show (assuming you’re unfamiliar with the franchise) centers on Stanley Banks (Edward Juvier), who is the financially successful suburban patriarch of the family– a wife, two sons, and his eldest, a young woman named Kay (Oakland graduate Olivia Keifer). One random day at breakfast, Kay’s parents ask HER if she’s planning to marry the boyfriend whom they have never met and whose name they don’t know, and her reply of “yeah, I suppose so” is treated by one and all as an engagement announcement.
This is only the first moment in the story that defies any attempt at real world logic. The second is that Kay’s fiancé Buckley (Mason Gaida), is twenty three, the “head of a small company”, and utterly paralyzed by the thought of having more than fifty people at his nuptials. Stanley’s never-explained job provides a large house and a live-in maid on his single income, but this father of the bride-to-be is constantly teetering on the edge of psychological collapse at the thought of paying for a wedding for the only time in his life.
No one in this story acts like a real person, and there is either no attempt at narrative consistency or a total failure to provide one. At one point, Stanley (in the show’s sole piece of physical comedy) is attempting to save money by reusing the tuxedo from his own wedding and when he finally gets the much-too-tight pants fastened, this father of a twenty one year old daughter says “not bad for a man of forty!” As there is no sign that Stanley and his wife were Amish at the time of their wedding, a married forty year old having a twenty one year old daughter strains credulity at best. But later, Stanley’s secretary reminds him that she has been by his side for “twenty two years, seven months.” Unless we’re to assume Stanley hired an office assistant during his junior year in high school, it simply comes off as sloppy lack of story continuity.
This show is written by someone who did not understand that actors cost money. In many, many shows, actors are given multiple roles because there is simply not enough material in a single part to justify having a player on the payroll. Father Of The Bride is filled to the brim with these parts, many of whom disappear for well over an hour before possibly walking on again at the very end. Or not. The very talented Katy Kujala, who was truly great as Audrey in last season’s Little Shop Of Horrors, is present for a single scene. She’s very good in this scene, but then she’s gone and never returns. The Banks family has one too many sons, one of whom has a friend who shows up for a single scene that serves no story purpose other than making the show longer…and that’s it. Simply from a budgetary point of view, the decision to produce this piece at all is baffling, but maybe that’s why nobody is wired for sound.
The show is, in fact, very long. Backing out the time for the director’s intro and two ten minute intermissions, FOTB is two hours and twenty minutes long, but feels much longer. Not to nitpick, but a story called Father Of The Bride really should include a wedding, and this story ends as the family leaves for the ceremony. Imagine a production of Hamilton which ended with Hamilton bidding his wife goodbye as he leaves to go meet Aaron Burr and you’ll get an idea of how truncated and amputated the end of the story feels here.
There’s a lot of talented professionals here, none of whom give a bad performance. But this show was doomed from the moment it was licensed. With the abundance of plays and musicals out in the world to choose from, it’s truly hard to understand why the theatre is choosing this mediocre relic of a show to kick off a new season.
(Father Of The Bride is playing at Meadowbrook Theatre on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester now through February 4th. Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com, www.mbtheatre.com, or by calling the Meadowbrook box office at 248-377-3300.)