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Center Stage: Black Tie, The Tie That Binds

By Staff | Apr 12, 2012

Peter Thomasson, John Felix, Carrie Lund, Hallie Wage, and Adam Jones are the five fine actors from the Florida Rep. Company that mined for gold at last Friday night’s opening of A.R. Gurney’s latest comedy “Black Tie” and struck it rich in audience laughter. “Black Tie” is the sort of comedy that celebrates the old standard of good manners. Gurney once again is excavating in familiar territory, writing about the manners and morals of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) upper class.

According to the theater notes “Black Tie offers a sharply humorous look at a family in distress trying to organize a destination wedding in the Adirondacks. The father of the groom simply wants to make a memorable toast but instead must defend the time-honored ways of his WASP heritage to his son and the bride-to-be. Cultures clash when a surprise guest threatens to throw convention out of the window, and we see that balancing the old way with the new may prove too messy for this black tie affair.”

Let it be said that I am a huge fan of A.R. Gurney and usually enjoy his comic jabs at the WASPs of the Northeast enormously but “Black Tie” did not quite do it for me. “Black Tie” has a great premise but the playwright never quite delivers. The surprise guest is merely talked about but is never seen. The stage is set up “by the book; WASPY grandfather, also right and proper father of the groom, who simply is set up to describe the completely opposite future daughter-in-law and her ethnically challenged family, along with her similarly undesirable surprise wedding guest.

Since none of these far out folks ever appear it was a bit of a let- down for this audience member, but now let it be said loud and clear, the excellent acting of the five first rate actors and the brilliant Direction of Robert Caccioppo saved the day and certainly earned the exuberant, standing ovation they all received from the delighted audience.

Speaking of the wonderful cast, Peter Thomasson was simply outstanding as Curtis. Thomasson plays his character with unflappable elegance, cloaking steel with style, this actor made his character’s stuffiness endearing instead of over bearing and annoying.

Chalk up 4 stars for John Felix’s wonderful portrayal of Father getting big rousing laughs as, the ghost of the host. Felix is superb as an unreconstructed version of the “old guard” beautifully attired in full evening regalia spouting Chaucer, Keats along with his own bon mots (show me a bride that doesn’t blush and I’ll show you a Democrat that doesn’t spend money).

Carrie Lund (Mimi) gives her character grace and poise, her Mimi is not quite as unconventional as she might appear to be. Lund magnificently handles Gurney’s banter and bickering with great style and deft comedy flair.

Delightful Halle Wage is a perfect mixture of frustration and love as Elsie (the messenger for the bride and groom), making that somewhat familiar combination fresh and new. Adam Jones in the role of Teddy (the groom) gives a refreshing, and intriguing performance. Here is the new generation trying desperately to escape from the ties that bind him from his WASP heritage and values. This actor shines in his moment of fear and confusion about maybe not being in love with his polarizing, ethnically, opposite bride to be. This emotionally fraught, scene is very effective in this sensitive actor’s hands.

But the kudos really belong to Producing/Director Robert Cacioppo’s expert casting and Direction; effectively balancing nostalgia, humor, social rules and regulations with a rather messy, emotionally fraught situation, getting every laugh embedded in playwright Gurney’s “Black Tie”

Bottom line, there are some really first rate performances and laughs in this well organized, astutely styled, version of “Black Tie”. Since this production only plays till April 22nd you might want to phone the Box Office at 332-4488 and reserve your seat. When you phone remind ’em, that Marsha sent you.

Oops, while I have your attention let me tell you of a truly delightful little musical gem currently playing at the Off Broadway Palm with the unlikely title “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.”

With that moniker I wasn’t expecting to have my socks knocked off even though the houses have been totally sold out since this hilarious musical opened. The story line couldn’t be more off the wall; a Florida toll collector and an all- around, regular guy named Norbert (Bryan Robinson) along with his agoraphobic wife Jeannie (Jessica Unice) live in a trailer park Armadillo Acres in Starke Fl. Their 20 yearlong marriage is shaken when a pole dancing, hot, young stripper Pippi (Shannon McMillan) moves into the trailer park. She’s on the lamb from her, hard drivin’ road killin’ magic marker, pen sniffin’, spray can huffin’, bad boy Duke (Adam Clough).

This tension fraught tale is told by a trio of the park’s “white trash” Greek chorus Pickles (Kaitlin Doughty) a pickle devouring somewhat pregnant hysteric, Linoleum(April Monte) so named after her mother gave birth to her on the so named kitchen flooring, and Betty (Kathi Osborne) the manager of Armadillo Acres.

That’s all you’ll get out of me plot wise, but I will reveal that the talent of the sensational seven will blow you away, as will the first rate musical numbers, the comic dialogue and the wise cracks that come at you with machine gun delivery reducing the audience to a giggling mass of rubble. I haven’t had such a great time, in I can’t remember when.

So hot foot it over to the phone right now dial the Box Office at 278-4422 and see if you can still book a seat since the show closes on April 29th and this show has been pretty much totally sold out. If you can get a booking for this musical gem tell ’em you know who sent you