One Small Hitch by Lewis Black. Directed by Joe Grifasi.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Most of us were born to fail."
Lizbeth MacKay and Mark Linn-Baker; photo: T. Charles Erickson
Lewis Black’s play, "One Small Hitch" is filling the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and rocking its theater with laughter. There are two hours of very funny lines, very silly situations and very good actors. This 1982 play, set in 1981, has never truly been a success and this excellent production won’t really change all that. Funny as it is, it really isn’t a very good play. It’s like a weak-tea version of a good, not great, Neal Simon play; it sets you up to laugh even when the situation is darkest and leaves you a bit worn out from the frivolity and not one iota healthier, wealthier or wiser for the experience.
Funny lines abound in this 1960's style television situation comedy that lasts for just over two hours. Black and his director Joe Grifasi have had the very good luck to have their show presented with talented people playing all of the roles. However one thing is very clear by the end of the show, the classic farce that we are led to believe - through its visual design - will ensue is not there, not now and probably not never.
The cleverly jokey set by Robin Vest sets us up to expect farce - there are four doors and two archways in this play. The broad playing of the leads, Poppa and Momma Coleman, Doc and Delia, by Mark Linn-Baker and Lizbeth MacKay often makes us think we’re in a farce about to start. But farce is not the elemental aspect of this show. Here there are romantics who get confused (just like Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), there are sisters who cannot be satisfied with things as they are (just like Chekhov’s The Three Sisters), there are a husband and wife who depend too much on alcohol to get through the routine of their days (think Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) and yet all of these elements still do not make for an original play. Instead bits and pieces of all three and a dozen more seem to have been shuffled for laughs.
In addition to the two actors already mentioned there are some delicious performances by the younger members of the company. Megan Ketch plays Courtney, the bride-to-be, as a hard-pressed Kate the Accursed (courtesy of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew). She is resolute, strong, definitive in her pronouncement and still has one of the funniest cross-overs I’ve seen in years in Act Two involving something to drink and a practical implement. She has a multi-layered dress that matches her triple level wedding cake, and it is one of Susan Hilferty’s most delightful costumes. Jeanna Phillips as youngest sister P.B. has a dynamo of an opening monologue with some delectable physical comedy seemingly flown in from another country as she reveals her personal world and its two principal attractions. She handles the odd maturity of her role with great aplomb. Clea Alsip plays Melanie, the middle sister. She has a dry delivery of her most amusing lines, wears costumes that make statements but never reveal who or what she is and she makes each of her most amusing lines truly count.
Rounding out the cast are the bridegroom, Hunter, played with an accent left over from the previous occupant of this space, "A Streetcar Named Desire" and an overly pleasant manner that makes one immediately suspect a wife-beater in the making, by Ben Cole. He is too cool to be smarmy and yet there is an odd element in his playing that makes you think "Uh-Oh" pretty quickly.
Justin Long plays Ryan, the former boy-friend Courtney would rather forget. Long is wonderful in a role that calls for him to practically cross-dress, philosophize while making Delia into a madwoman, and ultimately "bond" with Cole’s Hunter in a way that makes a homosexual seduction seem practically possible in every way (thank you Mary Poppins).
Maybe some of the physical humor and physical awkwardness can be attributed to the director, to Joe Grifasi. Maybe it is in the writing. Whatever may be the case, the cast is superb and their comic attacks are delicious. MacKay ends Act One with a vocal sound-effect that sets off gales of laughter. Linn-Baker and Long make a one-act play out of a cigarette. Cole tells a tale of accidental arrests like vaudeville trouper.
Rui Rita lights some of the offstage areas with instruments that bleed through the lightly painted scrim of the sets breaking us away from the reality of the play.
No matter what is said or written about this show, the primary fact is that it is funny. It is predictable, a sit-com, but it is funny. It reeks of its time period but it makes you laugh and it is entertaining. Sometimes that can be enough. Laughter. Entertainment. We forget how valuable these commodities are and Williamstown is letting us in on the secret that talent can bring out these elements. Don’t waste your time on the underlying social drama of this play when the laughter can be so much more enjoyable.
Mark Linn-Baker; photo: T. Charles Erickson
Justin Long and Jeanna Phillips; photo: T. Charles Erickson
One Slight Hitch plays at the Nikos Stage in the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance located on Main Street in Williamstown, MA. For tickets and information call the box office at 413-597-3400.