“Father of the Bride,” the 1950 film starring Spencer Tracey, Joan Bennett and Elizabeth Taylor, and the 1991 remake starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and Kimberly Williams were both based on the novel by Edward Streeter of the same title. Having enjoyed both films multiple times, it was with great anticipation that this writer looked forward to seeing the Beef & Boards Dinner Theater adaptation of this beloved story about an overstressed father who is overwhelmed by preparations for his daughter’s wedding. However, upon seeing it Saturday at this venerable theater that serves dinner to its patrons from a buffet prior to its shows, Examiner.com found the tasty food far more satisfying than the play, which was, unfortunately, a misfire.
Directed by Eddie Curry, the production featured Jeff Stockberger as the father, Stanley Banks, Kristen Lennox as his wife, Lisa Ermel in the role of the bride, and Ben Tebbe as the groom, as well as others in lesser roles.
Most disappointing was the comedy’s ill-advised script with its gratuitous references to Facebook, the Simon family, its Carmel, Ind. setting, and use of smartphones as props. No doubt these additions were meant to contemporize and localize the story but ultimately they fell short in improving the play or making it relevant. In addition, what should have been a straightforward domestic comedy was transformed into a farce, with failing results.
In the end, these gimmicks and others, simply could not save a production that suffered from not only faulty directing choices but also performances that were simply not believable.
Chief among them was Stockberger, whose take on the role was that of a lovable curmudgeon. Rather than being perceived as sympathetic, however, his character's constant hostile carping became simply grating. Also, there was nothing subtle about the scene during which Stanley insists that his old tux is perfectly fine, when in fact it appears way too small once he puts it on and he has to be careful not to split his pants once he sits down. What would have been more comically effective as a simple sight gag became nothing more than tired vaudeville schtick.
Stretching belief as well was Ivory McKay as Mr. Massoula, a wedding planner. Whereas Martin Short’s brilliance in this role in the ’91 film remake came from the fact that its comic impact was derived less from Franck Egglehoffer’s effeminacy and more from his European eccentricity, McKay’s version was far less inventive.
Wearing a costume in shades of pink and lavender, McKay’s flamboyant characterization could be viewed as a harmless caricature of an obviously gay man but for those given to homophobic stereotyping; it could also be used as justification for discrimination. The same could be said for Massoula’s assistant, Butch (no explanation required), played by Sandra Belles.
Another example of less is better was Deb Wims as Stanley Banks’ controlling secretary Ms. Bellamy. Wim's character, who was reduced to organizing the guest list for her boss’ daughter’s wedding, should have engendered empathy but was annoying instead, due to the exaggerated stridency she brought to her role.
In contrast to the performances mentioned above, which unfortunately lacked credibility, were those of cast members who by virtue of their talent were the saving grace of this production. Well respected for their work in local theater and making the most of this lackluster effort were Ermel who was flawless as the bride Kay and Tebbe who charmed as her guileless groom. Lennox was appropriately nurturing and shone as stoic Mrs. Banks, the bride’s mother, and Joseph Mervis was suitably effective as her son and the bride’s precocious brother Tommy.
Finally, for a theater that is usually outstanding for the quality design and execution of its sets and costumes, those for “Father of the Bride” were also disappointing. Failing to help this reviewer suspend belief and become properly drawn into the action, these production elements, due to their inferiority, only served to distract from it.
For tickets and information about Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s presentation of “Father of the Bride,” call (317) 872-9884 or visit www.beefandboards.com.
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