GRAPEVINE The playwriting trio of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, collectively known as Jones Hope Wooten, have become so popular in community theaters around the country in part because of their women characters. That's especially true in plays like The Dixie Swim Club, which depicts a never-faltering friendship between strong women over time.
They might have the same kind of success with their latest play, Always a Bridesmaid, currently having its world premiere at Grapevine's Runway Theatre. Despite the Debbie Downer meaning of the platitude "always a bridesmaid, never the bride," the four middle-aged friends of this play are both -- and frequently.
The four scenes take place over the span of seven years in the sitting room of a suite in the Laurelton Oaks in Virginia, where each of the women has been married, some of them multiple times . And each time, they're bridesmaids for whoever is getting hitched.
Libby (Patsy Hester Daussat) is the ever-hopeful romantic who has been happily married the longest. Monette (Dana Harrison) is the saucy one who goes through husbands like they're morsels on a charcuterie platter. Deedra (Connie Lane) is the calm and no-nonsense one, and Charlie (Dena Dunn) is the crotchety complainer who'll probably never tell anyone "I do."
The woman who runs the establishment, Sedalia (Sue Ellen Love), is snobby and quippy. And before each scene, we get a snippet from the bride's speech from Kari, daughter of Libby, whose wedding is the focus of the fourth scene. (Kari is normally played by Kelly Kennedy; but was admirably performed by Amber Sebastian as a last-minute replacement at the performance seen for this review.)
Jones Hope Wooten are so in-demand by community theaters that they write two plays a year, and often a theater books a premiere without even knowing the title of the play or what it's about. They can write some fiercely funny one-liners ("Can I really marry into a family that thinks gravy is a beverage?"), and know how to set up a comic situation, too. And luckily here, we don't get many cliché lines about the awfulness of bridesmaid dresses, with those frilly bows and putrid colors -- although there are some funny visuals, especially in the third scene for the French-themed wedding. (The costumer is Misty Baptiste.)
Bridesmaids still needs some tightening, and that goes double for director Kenny Green's production at Runway, which, on Sunday afternoon, was lethargic and had too many cues that needed picking up. (The replacement actor shouldn't have been an issue because she's not directly in the scenes with the other women, until the end.)
Dunn, by far, gives the best and most realized performance, and Harrison lucks out with the help of some saucy lines. But whether it's a writing or performance issue, Libby and Deedra need to be more distinguishable; they're both pretty bland characters.
What the play could use most is a stronger point of conflict than the one it sets up. The idea of friends sticking together through thick and thin would be more convincing if there was something that, to paraphrase one character, would take more than a fifth of whiskey and a funnel to fix.