A little schmaltz, well-seasoned and mixed with something substantial, is not necessarily a bad thing. And for three of its four scenes, Judy Korotkin's touching Wedding Pictures offers a well-written, well-directed and exceptionally well-performed portrait of a young women so affected by the death of her grandmother that she decides to call off her impending wedding. As the family sits shiva, the bride to be's charmingly dysfunctional relatives confront their fears of loneliness, commitment, divorce, and reconciliation, all the while struggling to restore her faith in love, marriage, and the importance of family.
Under Stephen Sunderlin's assured direction, the evening perked along, buoyed by the writing and performances, until the last scene, when the schmaltz faucet was opened so wide the sentimentality gushed unchecked. Everything and everyone resolved so quickly and so nicely that it felt almost as if Korotkin didn't trust that an unconventional ending would actually help rather than hinder her work.
Nevertheless, Sunderlin's production was an excellent example of the whole being equal to if not better than the sum of its parts. Everything about the show was done with an attention to detail that was extraordinary, from the casting down to the smallest prop and sound cue. (How refreshing to have phones ring with a modern ring! Not always the case, surprisingly.) Jeffery Criddle's Upper West Side apartment set wisely used the natural brick walls of Vital's auditorium to smart effect, Sheree Coluccelli's costumes defined each character in tandem with the script, and Michael Abrams's lighting, if not flashy, bathed the stage in a warmth that was in keeping with both the script and Sunderlin's interpretation of it.
And then there were the performances-each and every one a gem. As the reluctant bride, Amy, Sarah Schoenberg was not afraid to expose her bratty side, and in the process made her character complex and sympathetic. Likewise, as Amy's mother Sheila, Emily Zacharias excelled in playing many emotions all at once in a marvelously controlled and shaded performance. Mimi Scott and Neil Levine were hilariously on target in their cameo roles; in lesser hands their characters may have been offensive stereotypes, but Scott and Levine made them the emotional heart of the play, a curious imbalance that shouldn't have worked, but somehow did.
Despite Wedding Pictures' problems with its resolution, Korotkin's warm mix of humor, insight into familial relationships, and genuinely human characters help make for a superior entertainment of this kind. What a first-class movie it would make - perhaps for Lifetime Television for Women. They would be lucky to have a script of this caliber, even with its formulaic (for now) ending.
(Also featuring Nancy Franklin, Robert Harriell, Barry J. Hirsch, Cortnie Lorén Miller, Pamela Shaw.)
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita