Updated: Jun 20, 2020
Delia: “This isn’t going to be a wedding, Doc...It’s going to be a catered inquisition.”
Lewis Black has to be one of the most manic people I have ever seen on stage, and though he does not appear in “One Slight Hitch,” the characters in this play represent his deliriously frantic mind without question. It is, I will admit, a delightfully perfect spring theatre offering, presently playing at STAGEStheatre, Fullerton, through May 19th, with tons of laughs and just enough seriousness to perhaps avoid being called a farce, although it really is. The jokes come fast and furious, piled on each other like pancakes at a church fundraiser, and there is plenty of substance and silliness to feast on. After the performance, it felt like it fit somewhere between a reality show like Bridezilla and a situation comedy. Directed with style by Jason Sutton, the cast is extremely adept in their roles.
The slight hitch to this comedy by Comedy Central mainstay Lewis Black is that the idea of a house going to pieces in the wake of a wedding may be all too familiar, with so many movies and plays out with similar themes. But Black seems to pull it off, building to his hysterics in the first act, as charmingly eccentric Doc Coleman (Glenn Freeze, “Twilight Zone,” “The Producers”) and his wife, Delia (Michelle Miller-Day, “Pack of Lies,” “God of Carnage”), bumble about their home in preparation for the wedding of their eldest daughter, Courtney (Jessica Taylor Gable, “Suprema,” “Murder On the Nile”). Ironically, in the show, Courtney is the author of a book that bashes nuptials, with a chapter in her book entitled, "Marriage Is for Morons."
As the story unfolds, it’s a summer morning in the year 1981, and the Coleman household is thrown into a tizzy by the unexpected arrival of Courtney's ex-boyfriend, the raffish, sexy, irresponsible Ryan (Cameron Patrick Murray, “The Merchant of Venice,” “It’s a Wonderful Life”), who, unaware of her engagement, has dropped by to share the enlightenment he has experienced on the road as an emulator of latter-day novelist, Jack Kerouac. As cracks begin to form in the nuptial joy, Doc Coleman is desperate to keep him from being seen by Courtney, afraid the mix could lead to a stall in the wedding plans.
The booze guzzling middle sister, 20-something Melanie (Mary Cash), a nurse (despite being a bit schizophrenic), has always had a thing for birthday-suited Ryan, and takes advantage of the ensconce, in a flirtatious half teasing, half serious chase around the room. The button-cute PB (Summer Stratton), the youngest Coleman girl, is in cahoots with her dad and helps hide Ryan (who begins in a towel and ends in candy apple red boxers) in various locations in the house. Mr. Murray spends most of Act I shirtless as well, exacerbating the female hormones.
The pixyish PB, desperate to be considered as an adult, is not yet old enough to drive, but may be the only one who has it all together in the household. Her bouncy, Walkman-attached characterization of herself makes the early ’80s look like fun — and not just because of her musical choices, which includes “Bette Davis Eyes,” and "Jessie's Girl."
By the time the wealthy, WASPish, groom-to-be, Harper (RigelKent Paden, “No Exit,” “All the World’s a Grave”) shows up, things begin to percolate preposturously. In comic tradition, Mr. Paden, with his “Al Gore-like” strait-laced propriety, plays Ryan’s polar opposite — polite, mature, focused, spotlessly groomed, apologetic, and helpful to a fault. But somehow, everyone still keeps referring to him as “Ryan.”
One of the production’s star attractions is, of course, Mr. Freeze as Doc, who is an absolute knockout as a dad who begins as an orderly, disciplined patriarch, and starts cracking at the seams when the pretense wears him thin. Reverting to childlike behavior as his dreams go up in smoke, he rouses gales of laughter with many of Black's best lines, such as describing the guests as "people we've never seen, wearing clothes we've never imagined."
But Mr. Freeze is well matched by Ms. Miller-Day as his wife, Delia, whose reactions to Ryan’s presence was perfectly overwrought, brought to life on stage as the epitome of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Her character’s defining moment came during the second act monologue, however, at the end when she reminisces about her own big day.
Playwright Black explains, “A lot of the reason I’ve hung with it so long is the mother’s speech,” he said. “Near the end, Courtney’s mother delivers a dreamy paean to the Greatest Generation and its eagerness to nest after the Second World War: We ache for life, hoping to flood the world with innocent children, replacing the smell of death with baby powder.” Clutching a pillow close, Black says, “All you can do when you write is leave messages behind, and that speech is a message I’d like to leave. My parents were married for sixty-five years, and I was married for about ten minutes... Something, somehow, didn’t get passed on to my generation.”
Ms. Miller-Day is also delicious in the downstairs bathroom door scene behind which Ryan is locked, clearly thinking about the possible use of a screwdriver, as well as answering the front door, frozen like a store mannequin. “This isn’t going to be a wedding, Doc.” “It’s going to be a catered inquisition.”
The explicit, plain-spoken Mr. Black, who holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, goes on to say, “If my name weren’t on it, nobody would even know that I wrote this play.”
But Lewis Black seems like a modern kind of guy. In the Broadway stop of his "Running on Empty" solo show tour, he spent plenty of time on the previous presidential election. His regular gig on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was extremely popular. The Grammy award-winning comedian is best known for his angry demeanor and belligerent comedic style, in which he often simulates having a mental breakdown as part of his routine, which often escalates into angry rants about history, politics, religion, or any other cultural trend.
Black was the voice of Anger in 2015's Oscar-nominated Pixar film, "Inside Out," and was voted 51st of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time by Comedy Central in 2004. His techniques include sarcasm, hyperbole, profanity and shouting with his trademark angry finger-shaking, which brings emphasis to his topics of discussion. He once described his humor as "being on the Titanic every single day and being the only person who knows what is going to happen."
Black's 30-something film roles include “Accepted,” “Unaccompanied Minors,” “Farce of the Penguins,” and “Man of the Year with Robin Williams.” Black has also penned more than 40 plays, including, “The Deal,” a dark comedy, which was made into a short film and picked up by the Sundance Channel. There’s more than a touch of Neil Simon in the morose Mr. Black. But then the name of his alter ego in this play is Doc, which is Neil Simon’s longtime industry nickname. Coincidence? I think not.
When all is said and done, the barbs, action, and frosting fly freely in this one, and Black finds a crowd-pleasing, saccharine-infused twist to make up for love gone wrong. The show is produced by Patti Cumby and Stage Managed by Samuel Maurer. Set Design and Lighting is by Jon Gaw, with assistance by Amanda DeMaio. Technical Direction is also by Jon Gaw, and Sound Design is by Fabian Montes.
“One Slight Hitch” continues through May 19th at Fullerton’s STAGEStheatre, currently celebrating their 27th year. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Additional performance is Saturday afternoon at 4pm, May 18th. This show is Highly Recommended! Tickets may be purchased online at https://stagesoc.org/