FATHER OF THE BRIDEby Caroline Francke
from the novel by Edward Streeter
Plaza Theatre Company
Directed by Jodie and Soni Barrus
Set Design – Soni Barrus
Lighting Design – Cameron Barrus
Costume Design – Stacey Greenawalt
Property Design – Soni Barrus
Sound Design – Soni Barrus
Stage Manager – Ruth Ann Warwick
CAST (for reviewed performance)
Luke Hunt – Mr. Stanley T. Banks
Barbara Richardson – Elle Banks
Rachel Larsen – Kay Banks
Parker Barrus – Ben Banks
Nolan Moralez – Tommy Banks
Michael Sorter – Buckley Dunstan
Toby Burris – Buzz Taylor
Madison Heaps – Peggy Swift
Pamela Valle – Delilah
Cherie Robinson – Miss Bellamy
Russ Walker – Mr. Massoula
Ellen Shelby – Mrs. Pulitzki
JaceSon P. Barrus – Red
Joe Robinson – Mover
Samantha Robinson – Mover
Nathan Glenn – Joe
Ruth Ann Warwick – Tim's Woman
Photos by Levi King
Reviewed Performance: 9/20/2014
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Even Shakespeare knew the score. “The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class hostage…. (W)hen his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, ‘Daddy, I need to ask you something,’ he is a pat of butter in a hot frying pan.”
But it was Edward Streeter in 1949 who wrote the definitive guide for the modern man, Father of the Bride. That was followed by movies in 1950 with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor and in 1991 with Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and Martin Short. What with sequels for both movies, a 1960’s TV series, and knockoffs, the subject continues to teach new generations of fathers about this age-old challenge.
Caroline Francke wrote a stage play in 1951 based on Streeter’s book and it’s that version playing in Cleburne at Plaza Theatre Company. The basic story is well known. Kay falls in love with Buckley and Mr. Banks gets to pay the bills, though everyone else chooses what he pays for. Zaniness ensues as the small, private wedding with fifty guests grows into a 300-guest extravaganza and father and daughter learn how important they are to each other.
Father of the Bride at PTC was directed by Jodie and Soni Barrus, who also designed the set, sound, and props. It was a fair representation of a living and dining room in a 1950’s middle class house. This production was set in ’55, though the play was written in ’51. It was a living room suite, dining room table, small office desk with old typewriter, and a stairway to an upstairs in the house, and was realistic because it looked like my grandmother’s house from my childhood in the 50’s. There were lots of props, not just for the home but also wedding presents and packages, and props the actors used that captured their character, like Tommy Banks’ constant football. Cameron Barrus lit the stage with standard colors and lights and a bright illumination to a comedic style of play.
Sound design was both good and bad. It was wonderful entering the theater to the strains of Dion, Sinatra, Dean Martin and other staples of 50’s playing for pre-show, intermission, bows, scene change, and periodic moments to back up some textual point. There were also a few music sequences, such as a Jaws Shark theme which created tension around the ever-growing invitation list. But Jaws wasn’t around in ‘55 and this seemed out of place and a bit distracting for that reason, though it was clear what it implied. It was also distracting when the old 1950’s dial telephone on the desk rang from somewhere up in the rafters. And, as is often the case when actors use head mics, there were times when actors started talking before their mics were active or when their voice came from one side of the stage while they were on the opposite.
Costumes were designed by Stacey Greenawalt to put actors into a wide range of mid-50’s middle-class clothing, including below-the-knee print dresses for women and plaid jackets and suits for men. Kay, the daughter, wore numerous “modern” dresses, including what looked like a long denim dress, a 50’s polka dot white hoopskirt, and eventually a wedding gown. Costumes supported the story well, were never out of period, and lent great color to the scenes.
Characters included members of the Banks family, the fiancé, and various friends, girlfriends and employees, all of whom had some reason to try and influence the wedding. But the two most important characters in the play were Mr. Banks and daughter Kay.
Luke Hunt played Mr. Banks. His character was clearly supposed to be a hapless, but wise because of years realizing he had very little real power in his castle. Hunt created a nicely crafted arc from the opening moment when he seemed confused about “what’s going on” with his daughter, through several levels of denials, then acceptance, about her marriage plans and the boy she was going to marry, and a man who created a relationship with Kay most men with daughters can identify. Hunt gave Mr. Banks a father-knows-best attitude, especially when counseling his future son-in-law about the realities of husbandry. Hunt was completely believable in this role, both in his look and his demeanor. Many of us had fathers like that. Others have seen this father on older TV shows and movies. He used a calm, confident acting style, even in the midst of scenic turmoil, to make the audience like his character.
Kay Banks is barely an adult, still living at home and acting a bit like a teenager demanding to be treated like an adult. Rachel Larsen played Kay and she was also believable in her role. Larsen gave Kay the impetuousness of a teenager and a confidence in Kay’s new adulthood. Of course, the first and frequent blockade to her plans was her father, so Kay and Mr. Banks had a lot of scenes, and this is where Larsen and Hunt worked well together. Larsen devolved into tears and anger frequently and moved into and out of these emotional scenes comfortably. Larsen showed her character’s experiences through subtle changes in physicality to show the woman Kay had to become.
Hunt often had to play against these tirades and did so by sometimes allowing Mr. Banks to lose his own control, but always bringing him back to the constant father, frustrated and yet strong enough to care for and console his child. Together, we saw a relationship develop and it was Hunt and Larsen who made this transition fun to watch.
Mrs. Banks and her sons, Ben and Tommy, fit right into the complete Happy Days type family. Mrs. Banks supports and expects much of the father but sided with the daughter when it came to marriage. Barbara Richardson played her and was both a good partner and foil to Hunt. Through her we felt empathy for the family unit. She had a calm style to mirror Hunt’s, but also created through her voice and directness the demeanor of a woman who ruled the family from a position of quiet strength.
Younger brother Tommy was the main comic in the Banks family, exposing absurdities in everyone’s behaviors. Nolan Moralez made Tommy act like younger brothers do, laying on the floor while teasing his sister and poking fun at mom and dad, being a bit “disrespectful” by showing his devil-may-care style. Tommy’s comic barbs were delivered wryly with a sharp wit by Moralez. But it was clear through his self-limits that Tommy knew how far he could go without really disrespecting his parents.
Other comic moments came from Delilah, the housekeeper, played with great physical aplomb by Pamela Valle, and from Miss Bellamy, played by Cherie Robinson. Valle’s Delilah was a hoot from the opening moments. She gave Delilah the same kind of comic impact Ann B. Davis in the Brady Bunch had, making Delilah an important and beloved character. Her questioning of everything, exasperation when the zaniness arrived, and especially when her house was completely upset by the wedding planners was classic comedy. Valle used great timing with these lines and it created great laughter.
Cherie Robinson took Miss Bellamy, Mr. Banks’ secretary who was trying to control the growing guest list, to heights of indignation and eventual explosion, emotionally and then physically, as her outbursts escalated to outrage. Her sudden resignation in the midst of Robinson’s complete meltdown forced the Banks family to come to terms with their crazy behavior.
Buckley Dunstan was played by Michael Sorter. The tall, lanky, red-haired young actor made Buckley into a studious character, serious and focused on Kay, but fell back into being a boy who needed a father’s guidance, in this case Mr. Banks, through the pre-wedding jitters and struggles with Kay. Sorter made Buckley ride a roller coaster of many emotions from confidently happy with Buckley’s choices to distraught and lost when Buckley’s plans fell apart.
Father of the Bride was old-fashioned and a bit schmaltzy, like watching episodes of Father Knows Best or a rerun of White Christmas. There’s no big revelation and you know everything that’ll happen. But there’s comfort in that. It’s like reliving an earlier, safer time in our lives. Though it has no edge, it’s nice to be reminded that good can prevail and happy endings do happen.
Plaza Theatre Company
111 South Main Street
Cleburne, TX 76033
Plays through October 11th
Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 pm and Saturday at 3:00 pm
Ticket prices are $15.00, seniors (65+)/students (HS and College) are $14 .00, and children (12 and under) are $13.00.
For information about the next show and to purchase tickets, visit www.plaza-theatre.com or call the box office at 817-202-0600.