Lewis Black is best known for his anger-fueled comedic style on “Comedy Central” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and in his stand-up routines, but “One Slight Hitch,” playing right now at The Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton, reveals his gentler side and genuine talent as a playwright.
Set in Cincinnati Republican suburbia in 1981 -- the year Ronald Reagan became president -- the play explores the trickle-down dysfunction of an upper-middle-class family.
Only hours away from their daughter's wedding, Doc and Delia Coleman prepare to host the lavish wedding they never had, with a tiered cake, elaborate flowers and shrimp boats for the guests. The parents' wedding jitters intensify when their daughter Courtney's ex-boyfriend shows up on their doorstep.
Imagine over the course of the next two hours how Ward and June Cleaver might behave if they started drinking and pill-popping before noon. The play is hilarious, and it would be inaccurate to say the Coleman family's big wedding day ends without a hitch.
Here are seven highlights:
The theme: “One Slight Hitch” explores the conflict between following one's dream and following the example set by others. When the tension becomes too great, members of the Coleman family seek escapism in the form of alcohol, pharmaceuticals, sex, denial and isolation.
The music: PB, youngest of the three Coleman daughters and narrator of the play, finds refuge in the music of Bruce Springfield, Blondie, Kim Carnes and Bruce Springsteen pumping through the headphones of her Walkman. Similar to the role of the chorus in ancient Greek dramas, the songs provide commentary on the action.
The actors: There's terrific chemistry among the seven-member cast, especially between Bryan Dysktra as Doc and Rita Rehn, who plays his wife. The audience delights in the uncovering of the couple's relationship, both literally and metaphorically, and discovering why their daughters have turned out the way they are. Plus, I heard lots of giggles around me during a scene featuring the two male rivals — the ex-boyfriend Ryan, played by Alex Curtis, and Harper, the groom-to-be played by Kyle Nunn.
Wardrobe: For anyone who lived through the '80s, the outfits are a what-was-I-thinking reminder of some of the fashion trends of the time. PB wears overall shorts, bright-colored spandex and color-coordinated scrunchies, influenced, perhaps, by Olivia Newton John's 1981 “Let's Get Physical” video. Looking like an overly sweet ice cream sundae in a pastel polo shirt and coordinating plaid slacks, Harper is the antithesis of Ryan, who in patterned underwear, a pink rain jacket and sometimes shades, fantasizes about becoming the Jack Kerouac of his generation. But the best costume of all is Courtney's. The bride resembles a neurotic poodle in an over-tulled, over-adorned wedding dress that's as excessive as the '80s.
The script: A playwright before he was a stand-up comedian, Black presents a tightly crafted story. It didn't bother me that the first act was slower than the second. As more layers of dysfunction are exposed, the pace picks up and zingers fly across the stage. Moreover, Black offers a profoundly concise explanation for the Baby Boomer generation: Like many couples right after World War II, the Colemans hastily got married, “hoping to flood the world with innocent children, replacing the smell of death with baby powder,” Delia explains to her girls.
The line that got the most laughs: I won't spoil it — but it has to do with the Buckeye State!
The theater: If you've never been to The Loft Theater, located between the Victoria Theatre and Uno's on Main Street, you're in for a treat. The 212-seat theater, home to the Human Race Theatre Company, is comfy and offers an intimate theatergoing experience. Plus, you can take drinks into the theater.
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