Don’t expect Shakespeare when you see a Ruth Hale play at the Hale Center Theater in Orem. But “I Came to Your Wedding,” running through June 11, is subpar even by the usual standards, offering only a few scattered laughs and amusing characters amidst a sea of trite, labored comedic situations.
The time is 1984 (and kudos, by the way, to the costume and hair departments for some truly outstanding ’80s garb). Darren Call (Amanda Webb), a pretty but wishy-washy girl, is about to marry wealthy twit Ellis McIntyre (Matt Kohl), much to the dismay of boy-next-door Johnny (Andrew Allman), whom she left at the altar less than a month ago.
Darren’s mother, Muriel (Mary Kay Peirce; double-cast with Debbie Ellis), and Muriel’s old-maid sister Dorothy (Debbie Lloyd) aren’t happy about it, either. Ellis’ family is demanding and snooty, particularly Ellis’ drab uncle Anthony (Jon Hale; double-cast with Cody Hale), whom sentient beings will realize the moment he walks onstage that is destined to hook up with Dorothy.
To get revenge, Dorothy invites her backwoods Oklahoma relatives to the wedding, hoping to embarrass the McIntyres. (How this will benefit her is not clear.) The bumptious moonshiners show up and make a lot of noise and run around with names like “Florabelle” and “Fairycomb,” and sure enough, folks get embarrassed.
Ellis is a persnickety, spiteful character from the get-go, yelling at Darren for being late and reproving her for going around barefoot. They clearly don’t even like each other, while Darren and Johnny are obviously still in love. If you think for a minute that Darren and Ellis will actually get married, you deserve this play. It’s painfully obvious they won’t, but the play keeps pretending they will, hoping we’ll go along with it and be surprised when she wises up later.
The vanilla-bland script is a mess, technically speaking, with events occurring merely because the author wanted them to, and against all logic. Johnny and Darren get lost despite having lived in the town all their lives; this is weakly blamed on Darren’s “bad sense of direction,” with a subsequent throw-away implication that Johnny did it on purpose. Someone gets tied up in his garage and then — without getting himself untied — hops all the way to the Calls’ house. A minister starts to perform the wedding in the living room even though hundreds of guests are milling around in the backyard. Why? Because the play has to have the wedding, but the play doesn’t allow for a set change.
The best character in the play is Wallace, a teen-ager in love with Darren’s sister Susan (Brooke Hess). Wallace is played by Michael Walker, who pulls off the difficult feat of being nerdy but not annoying. (Trust me, I’ve been working on this all my life.) His timing is great, pulling laughs out of situations that could easily have fallen flat.
Debbie Lloyd and Mary Kay Peirce are believable as Darren’s mother and aunt, functioning as half of “The Golden Girls” without as much bitterness. Many of their lines are no better than your average low-level sitcom, but they deliver them convincingly.
Amanda Webb and Andrew Allman make a fine pair as Darren and Johnny, too. They have charisma and personality — but, again, hardly a funny line between them.
No, the acting is not the problem here, by and large. It’s the rickety, uncreative script — seemingly a rewrite of every other Ruth Hale script — that makes the show a weak, ineffective experience.
Well, I didn't win any friends with this review. Folks posted comments at the Daily Herald Web site with the usual cries of bias, unprofessionalism, etc., etc. (see below) Despite my labors to say as much positive as I could, someone else mentioned publicly that my review had "absolutely nothing positive to say." A discussion on another Web site led to the same old claims about most of my reviews being negative (a notion that is quite easily disproved by merely looking at the letter grades I give and seeing that most of them are A's and B's). And so on and so forth.
It's gotten to where, when I'm sitting through a terrible show, I get depressed not at how bad the performance is, but at the angry letters I'm inevitably going to receive when the review is published.
Am I biased against Ruth Hale plays? Yes, in the same sense that you'd be biased against rattlesnakes if you got bitten every time you saw one. It's not a blind, unreasonable prejudice -- like I just woke up one day and said, "I'm not going to like Ruth Hale plays anymore." It's based on sad, sad experience.
Some of the Herald comments, all of which were anonymous unless otherwise noted:
Perhaps the gentleman who reviewed the show should first learn to write well himself (or at least pass this by an editor) before he is so quick to critisize other's attempts.
...And thank you for citing specific examples of bad writing from the review so we'd all understand what you were referring to.
Then this one:
Oh boy! Another POSITIVE review by the "all knowing" Mr. "Snider"!! His name fits -- nobody is more snide than Eric. [I've said this before, but why do people still think this is a clever insult? I've written a column called "Snide Remarks" for nearly four years now; the connection between "snide" and "Snider" has already been made.] I have learned if I want to see a good play, etc. I just read the reviews of Mr. S and if he doesn't like it, I usually do. [I guess that means she only enjoys about 30 percent of the plays I review, since that's how many I give negative reviews to.] Of course, I am not an expert... just an appreciative audience. I appreciate the hours of rehersal, the dedication of people trying to give us a little entertainment while they practice their skills. [It's usually clear that effort went into it. But effort doesn't always mean an entertaining product.] Mr. S forgets that these people are not professional actors, directors, etc.--just good people trying to do their best. Thank you to the Hale Theater, the Scera Shell and Scera Encore season and many, many others for giving us so many hours of quality entertainment. And, DAILY HERALD, get a clue and get a PROFESSIONAL critic. [If you think "professional" critics never say anything negative, which is apparently what you want, then you've got anothing think coming.] We are sick of this guy and his negative and arrogant attitude!!
This one was originally posted anonymously, but then Sanford Porter, a local actor, owned up to it:
At the risk of sharing an opinion and then being shouted down or mocked by Eric D on his own website, I have a few things to say in response.
I just couldn't resist pointing out the stupidest thing Eric has ever said in a theater review. According to the wisdom of the genius that is Eric Snider this play contains "events occurring merely because the author wanted them to." This is, of course, opposed to all of those other plays that the Theater Critics get to decide what event occur or those shows where they put it up to a vote. I suppose someone needs to decide what events occur, and I personally can't think of any other person more qualified to do it than the author. Maybe Eric can enlighten us as to who should be deciding what events should be taking place in plays, if not the authors.
I also liked Eric's preemptive strike to anyone who might disagree with his review. Insulting anyone who might actually enjoy the show by implying that this show might be some sort of a punishment for the less intelligent.
Thanks for the wonderful service you provide to the readers of your paper. I'm sure knowing how you feel will save them from the awful two hours they might have to endure watching this trite, labored, sub par, painful, vanilla-bland, average, weak, rickety, ineffective, low-level, uncreative mess of a show. Either that or they can see through your attempt to sound a little smarter than you are by ripping apart the show and go and see for themselves. [Not explained: How ripping apart a show that one honestly sees as being really bad constitutes trying to sound smart.] (Or read the review from another paper and see what someone who doesn't have an over-inflated ego to satisfy thought.) [Again, not explained: How he knows I have a big ego.]
In a follow-up post, he explained that he knew what I was getting at with the "because the author wanted them to" comment: I was criticizing the fact that things happened for no good, logical reason within the play, but rather because the author saw them as necessary to get to the conclusion she was aiming at. Sanford Porter's problem with the way I phrased it was that he saw it as an unnecessary jab at the author specifically, rather than just at the show or the script or whatever.
And so on, this one written in the style of Larry King's stream-of-consciousness newspaper column:
Next time he goes he should listen a little bit. Maybe his mind was elswhere that night....
We loved the play and especially the script. It was full of humor and cute innuendoes.
I didn't hear one negative comment (Not one)
everyone who was there the night we were enjoyed every minute of this cute play.... [EVERY single person? EVERY single moment? Apparently, God wrote this comment, as I don't see who else would have been privy to the entire audience's thoughts for the entire show.]
Try paying attention next time you go...
Ruth Hale deserves more credit than he gave her..
Maybe he needs a little more "theatre experience"
What a fun play this was! You can always count on one of Ruth Hale's plays being a great night of entertainment. It seems that you can't trust what Eric Snider writes about these plays. He's always so negative, [I'm not going to address the non-factual "he's always so negative" thing anymore] and I feel he just doesn't know how to have a good time. We've been coming to the Hale Theater for years now, and feel"I Came to Your Wedding" was one of the more enjoyable plays we've seen in a while. A talented cast, along with a somewhat predicatable happy ending play was just too much fun for Eric Snider once again! [Yeah, I shouldn't have criticized the talented cast. What? I didn't criticize them? Oh. Hmm.]
The end (so far).