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Theater Review: Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s “Always a Bridesmaid” 

click to enlarge The comedic ensemble includes Amy Berlin, Debra Wagoner, Jenny Hundley and Jacqueline Jones.

The comedic ensemble includes Amy Berlin, Debra Wagoner, Jenny Hundley and Jacqueline Jones.

Swift Creek Mill's late spring production is a Southern comedy about four middle-aged women who will do anything to adhere to their high-school promise to serve as bridesmaids in each others' weddings. In two acts and four scenes, all set in the same central Virginia bridal dressing suite and neatly separated by monologues and passing years, vows are made and broken, shenanigans ensue, but in the end nothing much really happens.

The authors of "Always a Bridesmaid," Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, are well-known for their series of Southern-set plays, "The Dixie Swim Club," "The Hallelujah Girls" and "Christmas Belles." Wooten was a onetime writer on the popular '80s sitcom, "The Golden Girls," and you can feel that influence, here.

Sitting through "Always a Bridesmaid" is like binge-watching four episodes of a particularly formulaic and predictable TV sitcom. The humor is frivolous and predictable and although I like the positive message about the significance of close female friendships, the play doesn't explore that theme with much depth. It's junk-food entertainment. You may get a laugh or two out of it, and there will be a broad, universally-relatable message with which to connect, but when it's all said and done, you, like the characters you've been watching, leave the experience basically unchanged.

Director Tom Width is well-versed in physical comedy, and a lot of the slapstick gags and zany ensemble moments work well in this production. Width's casting is smart, too. This production boasts a cast of strong comedic actresses who each do an excellent job embodying their respective character types and maintaining a Southern drawl.

Amy Berlin is hilarious as the glamorous but unlucky-in-love Monette, on her third marriage at the beginning of the play. Jacqueline Jones is syrupy-sweet and thoroughly Southern as the hopeless romantic Libby Ruth, with Debra Wagoner's staunch and level-headed Deedra as her foil. As the earthy, commitment-phobic Charlie, Jenny Hundley fully commits to the role of the screwball, and Jody Smith Strickler is enterprising and frustrated at turns as wedding planner Sedalia, charged with wrangling all of these big personalities.

The best part of the show, by far, is Rachel Hindman's fragmented monologue as the young and naive Kari, daughter of Libby Ruth. Framed as a drunken bridal speech, the monologue opens the show and fills the space between the acts.

Width's set is a realistic representation of an upscale bridal dressing suite, and Joe Doran's lighting design gives us lightning and sunshine through the windows, adding to that realism. Costume designer Maura Lynch Cravey has created some comically hideous bridesmaid dresses for this production.

Swift Creek Mill's "Always a Bridesmaid" is good for a few chuckles, and some of the best actresses in Richmond can be seen here, flexing their comedic muscles. It's always refreshing to see a show that celebrates female relationships. But overall, this production left me unaffected, and I want more from my theater. S

Swift Creek Mill's "Always a Bridesmaid" runs until June 30. Tickets cost $41.25 - $59.15. swiftcreekmill.com.

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