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Wedded Bliss

'Father of the Bride' is an enjoyable production despite the dated script.

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World War II is over; the fabulous '50s are just around the corner; and Kay and Buckley are two young people in love with nothing greater to worry about than the logistics of their little wedding. A truly small wedding, Buckley hopes, with only a couple of witnesses, not a bunch of strangers staring at him. Well, maybe a slightly more substantial ceremony, Kay hopes, with maybe 50 people there to see her in her beautiful dress.

Of course, this little wedding soon spirals out of control, and the person whipped about the hardest by the wedding's centrifugal force is Kay's father, Stanley. It's Stanley who's losing a daughter--not to mention a small fortune, as the bills for the reception start to mount. Before long, so many people have been invited that if anybody's going to throw rice, Stanley will have to buy a whole paddy.

If this story sounds familiar, it's because it's been a comic novel, a play and two movies, all somewhat different from one another, but all called Father of the Bride. Edward Streeter wrote the book; Caroline Francke adapted it for the stage; Spencer Tracy and young Elizabeth Taylor starred in the 1950 movie, and the 1991 re-make gave Steve Martin top billing. The local community theater troupe Catalina Players has dusted off the old script and brought the story back to the stage in an amusing, nicely paced production featuring actors of varying levels of skill and experience.

The 1991 Steve Martin vehicle retained the story line and basic situations, but had to update the script significantly; frankly, the play hasn't aged gracefully. This is the sort of show in which beleaguered men wear neckties around the house, and huddle together and roll their eyes at such female follies as marathon shopping. It's the sort of show in which a single character onstage carries on a phone conversation by mechanically repeating everything his interlocutor is apparently saying on the other end of the line ("What? You say you're afraid he's lost?!").

And it's the kind of show in which all men share a certain no-nonsense approach to life, and all women share certain romantic desires. The whole story hinges on the assertions that all women want big weddings; all men oppose them, and that weddings are barbaric rituals in which women come before their tribe to stake a public claim on their men, so that when the men inevitably stray, someone will send them back where they belong.

This sort of thing plays better to older folks who grew up taking these comic gender tropes for granted, and indeed, the Catalina Players' opening-night audience included a whole vanload of people in their 70s, 80s and 90s who seemed to be enjoying themselves. People under 40, however, unless they grew up in very conservative households, will probably be puzzled or put off by these too-easy stereotypes.

And at this distance from the story's origin, they may also be unnecessarily irked by Stanley's apparent cheapness. Stanley describes himself as a "thrifty and frugal man," and nearly has a coronary every time a bill comes in. He'll seem like a jerk and a tightwad unless you remember that Stanley's generation was traumatized by the Great Depression, and money was not something for them to part with lightly.

As Stanley, Dan Baerg clearly draws more inspiration from the exasperated Spencer Tracy than the manic Steve Martin, and nicely conveys Stanley's inner conflicts. He doesn't want to empty his bank account, and he wants even less to let go of his beloved daughter, but he also grudgingly signs check after check, because what's most important to him is making his daughter happy.

As Kay, Maria Fletcher fares significantly better than the comparatively blank Elizabeth Taylor in 1950 and the chronically upstaged Kimberly Williams in 1991. Fletcher is fully engaged in her every moment on stage, right down to her eyelids, which she frequently bats in perplexity. If the relationship between Kay and her father isn't as poignant as it might be, that's the fault of playwright Francke, not Fletcher and Baerg.

Among the other more memorable players are Keldon Wilson and Michael Dohrmann, lanky and casual as Kay's younger brothers; Sonja Kodimer as the perky, flighty maid; and Anna Bielejac as the haughty caterer.

As always, the company offers a meal before the show. Alas, there's no wedding cake for dessert. If you find something else missing from Father of the Bride, that's probably a matter of your age. If you suspect the dated script is compatible with your sensibilities, the Catalina Players' amiable community-theater production is worth a walk down the aisle.

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