The title “Zoey’s Perfect Wedding” quickly gives away the contents of the play itself: Zoey is not going to have a perfect wedding.
In fact, much of the events that transpire throughout the course of her reception directly tackle feelings of disappointment, from the personal to the professional, and several in between. And while the production might not tread much new ground, it still elicited numerous laughs, with a great majority of its punchlines sticking.
At the onset, we are quickly introduced to Sammy (Grayson DeJesus), a quick-lipped gay man in an open relationship, and his married couple friends Charlie (Jeff Biehl) and Rachel (Mallory Portnoy). A couple cash bar cocktails and several shots from a stolen bottle of Jose Cuervo later, what started as playful barbs between close friends quickly becomes predictably catty, but to great humorous effect. I was taking note of several of the insults hurled across the table to make sure I can incorporate them in my repertoire.
The smaller cast gave each member a chance to shine and they all seized these opportunities, a notable bright spot being amateur wedding planner/cousin of the bride Missy (Kristin Villaneuva) confessing how she racked up insane amounts of credit card debt to the DJ she fired minutes prior. Portnoy’s Rachel probably gets the most depth to her character and handles it with aplomb, veering from comedy to drama to somewhere in between, without the emotional shifts coming off as unnatural or abrupt.
Also, the aforementioned DJ, fittingly named DJ (Nick Ducassi), deserves props for turning what I thought was going to be a typical late 00s Brooklyn hipster into a genuinely likeable, if somewhat shallow, character. As audience members shuffled in, he played a variety of songs and commented on the general age of the attendees.
He also got in a solid dig at those in the audience that attempted to sing along with certain parts of Lion King’s “Circle of Life.” “That’s racist; you don’t know Swahili,” he exclaimed. Initially, I wagered his dual role as actor and pre-show emcee was going to hover around grating, but his eagerness and charm won me over by the time the lights came on.
The confined set pieces also benefited the production. The full reception hall, as well as the larger context of the downtown Brooklyn Marriott, were unseen. However, though the wedding cake remained mostly out of sight, when it finally made its ‘appearance’ of sorts, the audience giggled with a mixture of glee and horror, while the titular Zoey (Nija Okoro, digging into her role with a frenzied energy that made the most of one of the plays “smaller” parts) elicited one of the largest laughs of the evening with little more than a perfectly-timed squeak of strangled exasperation.
Set during 2008, with a freshly elected Obama and the looming specter of an all-encompassing economic crisis, a few of the time period references felt a little too wink-wink nudge-nudge, in particular a character expressing an almost cloying excitement that one of his friends has just gotten an iPhone. And while the Gilmore Girls-eque rapid fire banter works throughout most of the production, I’ve always had a slight issue with characters holding entire phone conversations seemingly without giving pause for anyone to respond.
Also keep in mind that this is all ground that has been covered before. Throughout the brisk 90 minute runtime of Zoey’s Perfect Wedding, I was reminded of numerous other works: Bridesmaids, Bachelorette, Rachel Getting Married, and more recently, the equally non-groundbreaking-yet-enjoyable Table 19 (another story of misfits sorting through their personal dramas at someone else’s wedding).
“I’m not going to let your wedding suck any more than it already has!”- Zoey’s Perfect Wedding
The list could go on, and for many, it likely will. Much of this feature carries the air of “something borrowed,” with a noticeable lack of “something new.” That overt familiarity certainly brought a lived-in atmosphere to the production, though, and I never once doubted that these were characters who existed outside of the context of this play.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the set. And surely there are clever applications of the theater’s pentagonal setup with various entrances and exits being made from all sides. A crafty use of lifted scenery was met with someone in the audience stating “that was pretty cool.” The ever-rotating reception table added a fluidity of motion to the performances and worked to engage audience members at all angles.
Overall, Zoey’s Perfect Wedding reminds one of catered reception food. It does its job well enough but will quite possibly make you think about more delectable meals you’ve had. If you’ve got the appetite though, you’ll likely feel no regrets about digging in. Equal parts funny, charming, and breezy, Zoey’s Perfect Wedding walks down a well-trod aisle with just enough charisma to get audience members to say “I do.”
Zoey’s Perfect Wedding played at the Space Theater in the Denver Performing Arts Complex through February 25. The show was written by Matthew Lopez, directed by Mike Donahue, and featured Jeff Biehl, Grayson DeJesus, Nick Ducassi, Nija Okoro, Mallory Portnoy, and Kristin Villanueva.