The SCERA Showhouse’s production of “Wedlocked,” a new musical by Marvin Payne and Steven Kapp Perry, demonstrates that a show about marriage need not contain earth-shattering insight in order to be worth watching.
Real-life couple Marvin and Laurie Payne, the only actors in the show, have enough charm and stage presence between them to fill an entire cast. From Marvin’s deep-timbred but gentle bellow, to Laurie’s sweet but strong persona, the two sing and act their way through the show admirably.
They play Val and Elizabeth Utley, a Seattle couple best described as “typical.” Elizabeth, through whose eyes most of the story is told, is a harried and overworked housewife who feels ignored by her husband, who, despite being an accountant, mainly wants to have fun and avoid serious issues.
In an attempt to “start over,” Elizabeth drags Val back to Salina, Utah, where they spent their honeymoon. Val, being impossibly thick-headed — the show was written by men; is this really how we see ourselves? — hasn’t the first clue that Elizabeth is trying to put the spark back in their marriage, or that sparks are even missing. Eventually, everything comes to a head, and the problems are dealt with.
It’s a slight, innocuous storyline, and no major “secrets of a successful marriage” are revealed. Accordingly, the show is shorter than average, though a few minutes could still be shaved off here and there, particularly in the long sequence where Val tries to watch a video while Elizabeth tries to be romantic.
That scene, in particular, points out an interesting problem with the show. Marvin and Laurie Payne appear to have such a good marriage in real life that playing a couple with marital problems doesn’t come naturally to them. As Val fixates on the TV and Elizabeth tries awkwardly to cuddle with him, we get a few chuckles — but it seems overplayed and unreal. The moments that seem genuine are the ones when Val and Elizabeth are on the same wavelength, communicating like the happy couple the Paynes apparently are. (Who ever thought having a great marriage would be a liability on stage?)
Marvin, who is an excellent actor in all respects, is too broad in this show. Just as Val doesn’t take the marriage very seriously, Marvin seems not to treat Val with much depth, either. In the end, while compromise is needed on both ends, it is clearly Val who must do the most changing, when a more satisfying (and realistic) approach might be to have it more equal. But Elizabeth is so much a stronger, more sympathetic character, that it turns out very uneven indeed.
Nonetheless, “Wedlocked” is a reasonably solid production. Add a few more layers to Val’s character, and Perry and Payne will have a musical worthy of greater attention. As it stands, it pleases the audience, cordially doing its thing and politely allowing you to move on. You may be largely unaffected by the proceedings, but you leave with a smile on your face, anyway.
Marvin Payne is a venerable figure in the Utah acting community, though he'll probably always be best remembered for playing the dad in the video version of "Saturday's Warrior," which I believe is in the home of every Mormon family in America. I know I watched it many times in my younger days....