Tara Fuller and Drew Smith star in West Coast Theatre’s production of “Wedding Secrets,” running through Oct. 6.
Ah, nuptials: Modern playwrights continue to exploit the three-ring circus of matrimonial union for humor.
Joe Starzyk’s relatively new comedy “Wedding Secrets” measures up to the best of them. The production runs through Oct. 6 at West Coast Players Theatre, 21905 U.S. 19 N. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; and Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets are $17. Call 437-2363 or visit www.wcplayers.org.
Starzyk picked up the pen a few years back, rekindling a passion for writing plays that had begun in college.
“I began writing scripts in college and then took a 27 year hiatus,” the playwright says on his website. “I began writing again to have a project to do with my youngest daughter – and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Last year, his play “Wedding Secrets” won the McLaren Memorial Comedy Playwriting Competition. Since 2007, he has written more than a half dozen full-length works and about 18 short plays.
Earlier this year, West Coast Players mounted a staged reading of “Wedding Secrets.” Starzyk traveled from his home in New York to participate in the reading. A staged reading is performed without sets or full costumes. The actors read from scripts and incorporate minimal stage movement. A major part of the event was the opportunity for all participants – including the audience – to engage in feedback with the playwright Starzyk.
The staged reading gave Starzyk an opportunity to fine-tune his play.
Now, Tampa Bay area audiences have a chance to see a full-blown production at West Coast Theatre.
The play revolves around a young couple, Bill and Susan. Following a whirlwind courtship, the two arrive at the home of Bill’s parents. Over a two-day weekend, Bill and Susan plan to formally announce their engagement to their families. Sounds simple enough, but in these farcical productions there are always amusing little complications.
In this case, Bill and Susan are already secretly married.
Of course, there is more to this amusing muddle than a single secret. Between Bill’s parents – Betty and Robert Devlin – and Susan’s parents – Joan and Dan Thompson – this comedy has more than its fair share of dysfunctional characters and relationships. Starzyk adds to the mix everything from financial issues and health problems to rebellious teenagers and eccentric siblings.
Directed by Tom Costello, the West Coast Players production of “Wedding Secrets” is smartly staged and capably acted. A fine cast and crew highlight the strengths of Starzyk’s comedy about family drama.
Tara Fuller plays Susan, the recent bride pretending to be nothing more than engaged to be married. Drew Smith portrays Bill, her husband – or husband-to-be. These two are Starzyk’s straight characters, in relative terms, as they are slowly derailed by the building chaos surrounding them. They are victims of misunderstandings and manipulation, and their frustration underscores the absurdity of the situation.
Graham Jones gives a solid performance as Robert Devlin while Samantha Parisi plays the scheming Betty Devlin. The playwright may have exaggerated Betty’s imperious nature too much, as the character refusal to surrender her son intermittently seems more mean-spirited than comic. Parisi thankfully tones down the maternal tyranny.
Cory McBride, as Joan Thompson, is effective, particularly in the mother-daughter scenes. Mike Bruno plays the unconfident, self-doubting Dan Thompson – one of the most compelling, and likeable, characters in the play. Bruno does a fine job making Dan’s marital clumsiness both credible and comical.
A centerpiece of this play is the oddball uncle living in the basement of the Devlin household. Joe, portrayed beautifully by Jason Freeman, is a cast of characters all by himself, taking on various identities depending upon what happens to be on television. He is the madman who utters words of wisdom. Freeman thrives in this varied role, scoring some of the most memorable moments of the play.
Another standout among this cast is Lauren Crandall. Crandall plays Susan’s younger sister, Samantha. A sophomore at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, she recently appeared in Eight O’Clock Theatre’s production of “Lost At Sea.” In “Wedding Secrets,” Crandall excels in the role of Samantha.
Rounding out this fine cast are Tiffany Ware as Sally, Tae West as Jake and Rosalyn Savel as Grace.
Overall, Starzyk’s “Wedding Secrets” is fun and enjoyable. The audience may find fault with a few obvious sitcom clichés and occasional bits of clunky dialog or outdated phrasing, but these are easily eclipsed by the play’s more riotous moments.