FORGET THE CONTROVERSYsurrounding Sandy Hey, the city of Minneapolis, and the unconscionable sum of money spent rehabilitating the former Hirshfield's building at 824 Hennepin into the new Hey City Theater. We must get on with our lives, and that involves reviewing Tony and Tina's Wedding, the maiden production in the theater, rather than the history of how it got there.
Adapted from the long-running New York hit, Tony and Tina's Wedding is an environmental theater piece--an event, even--composed of two parts: a garish wedding in Vinnie Black's Chapel of Angelic Inspiration, and a catered reception at Vinnie Black's, The Cadillac of Caterers. After running through a brief ceremony, actors playing the bride, groom, photographer, priest, wedding party, surly ex-boyfriend, nun, and others, mingle with the audience in improvised scenes and planned sketches.
Throughout the room, and on the dance floor that doubles as a makeshift stage, new marital spats and minor traumas play themselves out: The nun gets frisky with the bridegroom as the ex-boyfriend looks for trouble, and the best man visits one's table to show the coke stash in his wallet. As at any wedding, the guests are served mealy food and coerced into dancing the Chicken. And yes, the band, Donny Dulce's Fusion, plays "Celebration."
It may be useful to draw attention to my surname and my birthplace (the Bronx) before asserting that as clownish Italian affairs go, Tony and Tina's Wedding is only the half of it. I have seen my father, Frank, hurl a perfectly good cannoli during a heated family gathering. At my grandfather's wake in Botti's Funeral Home, I watched a mourner bend his trick boxing nose both ways to amuse the widows. With this experience behind me, I would maintain that one gets invited to enough lousy weddings without dropping 50 bucks on a fictional one.
Whether lacking a firm grasp on the ethnic source material, or spinning the eccentricities of squat Mediterraneans for the lutefisk set, Hey's wedding and its cartoonish characters often lean heavily on those primary tools of comedy: exaggeration and stereotyping. That the entire endeavor has as much meaning as a pedicure is immediately apparent. Yet neither of these criticisms is much of a problem. The actors are a hoot (though whether they can remain so after six months of weddings is questionable). What works best here--a nun directing the audience in singing "One Tin Soldier" during the ceremony, or the bridal party's lip-sync routine to Paula Abdul--is enough to leave one smiling at the end of the evening. A worthy enough goal. The greatest shortcoming of Tony and Tina's Wedding, like any real one, can be distilled to two words: Cash bar.
The Cricket Theatre's premiere of The Second Story Man showcases another bickering Italian couple struggling to make the leap of love. After losing out on a construction job, Alex rents an apartment directly beneath Max Nagledinger, the man who cheated him. With his ditzy girlfriend Kate, domineering Alex determines to exact revenge by drilling through the floor and stealing Nagledinger's computer files. Most of the play consists of Alex ordering Kate to perform tasks seemingly lifted from Time Life Books' Floors and Ceilings: Take a core sample of the particle board, examine the plywood for grain, draw parallel lines between the joists. Long-suffering Kate, however, cannot and will not comply. "I'm getting tired of having to argue with you about every single thing," Alex finally says. And so are we.
Billed as a comedy, The Second Story Man confirms a long-held maxim: The loudest sound in the world is an audience not laughing. Playwright Richard Strand writes dialogue for drinking games: If you take a swig every time Alex tells Kate to "get up on the ladder," you'll need a six pack--no, make that a case (anyway, you'll need it). Characters say a line once, and then repeat it in slightly different form. Lines are repeated by the actors; they say them once, and then twice, and then three times. The dialogue attempts to build a rhythm through repetition, with actors reciting slightly altered permutations of the same words again and again. Go back three sentences, repeat.
If the first half of the play resembles an excruciating episode of This Old House as acted by the Honeymooners, in the second, Strand cops a move from Magical Realism for Beginners. In the cause of rescuing a stranded baby bird, Kate takes a swan dive off their window ledge. She can fly, it seems, but this clunky metaphor for faith cannot. The impulse here is right, but Strand's magic is lacking in sleight of hand. I have been a gladly gullible party to this kind of arm-twisting before, clapping like a young maniac to save Tinkerbell and all other fairies. We won't be fooled again--not this easily. CP
Tony and Tina's Wedding will probably run forever; call 989-5151 (Ticketmaster) for tickets and showtimes;The Second Story Man runs through December 2; call 337-0747 for tickets and showtimes.