`Wedding' won't ring every guest's bells

Review: Nuptial nonsense is loud, messy and a lot to swallow. But if you're in a wild mood, then go ahead and RSVP.

October 02, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

It's been almost a decade since Anthony Angelo Nunzio Jr. married Valentina Lynne Vitale in Fells Point. Apparently the marriage didn't take, because now Tony and Tina are getting married all over again at Scarlett Place in the Inner Harbor.

This time around, "Tony n' Tina's Wedding" is a much more lavish production, although it's still in loud bad taste. The backdrop of the chapel altar is a giant pearlized scallop shell, and the gum-chewing bridesmaids have enough fake flowers in their hair to make several centerpieces.

It's safe to say that the Mechanic Theatre, which opens its season with this show, has never presented anything quite like it (and probably shouldn't be now). "Tony n' Tina's Wedding" is not traditional theater, although it has a script, actors, costumes and scenery. It's not even dinner theater, although dinner is served.

Created by a New York improvisational troupe called Artificial Intelligence, produced at Scarlett Place by Hey City Theater of Minneapolis, and cast with a preponderance of Baltimore- and Washington-based actors, "Tony n' Tina's Wedding" is the type of interactive theater that is more of an event than a play.

A blue-collar, triple-tacky Italian-American wedding at which theatergoers take the part of guests, the show won't be everybody's bowl of pasta. Spoilsport that I am, I'll admit up front that it isn't mine. But much of the opening-night audience got down and partied hearty -- joining the conga line, dancing with the bridal party or singing numbers such as "Y.M.C.A." and "Shout" along with the cast.

As played by Michael Todaro and Lisa Ray, Tony and Tina basically seem like sweet kids -- enough so that you find yourself rooting for them, even after their dream wedding has turned into a Murphy's Law nightmare.

The tone is set during the ceremony, which is filled with double-entendres and sight gags -- the priest alerting the best man that his fly is down; the bride's bubble gum getting stuck on her nose.

The mayhem escalates at the reception, where the bride's ex-boyfriend (Matthew Boylan) nearly starts a brawl on the dance floor; the very pregnant maid of honor (Jennifer Raimondi) receives a very public marriage proposal from her boyfriend, the best man (Ray Ficca); and the groom's father's girlfriend (Melissa Peterman) launches into her professional strip-tease act on top of the head table.

(One of the funniest lines is Todaro's plea, "This is a wedding, not a strip joint, Mom.")

The new production enhances the show with a host of humorously hokey design elements. Carey Wong's set turns the harborside catering hall into Vinnie Black's Blue Lagoon, decorated like a low-rent Las Vegas with an underwater theme. Brigid S. Borka's costumes are highlighted by the deep pink lace, one-shoulder dresses worn by the tattooed bridesmaids (the pregnant maid of honor looks like an overstuffed chaise lounge).

However, Ted Doyle's lighting is perhaps the cleverest -- and subtlest -- touch. Together with Ross Young's direction, the lighting helps the audience focus on significant plot developments, even when the dance floor is packed solid.

The proceedings are also tied together by John Brady's performance as Vinnie Black, a caterer who's more like a lounge-lizard comedian and whose family of waiters and waitresses runs this establishment with all the finesse of a truck stop.

Rosella La Von barks instructions for lining up for the buffet, while two other members of the Black family wield the type of flashlights used to guide airplanes on the runway. Better yet, after the meal, the Blacks distribute plastic trash bags to each table and order the diners to toss in their used paper plates and plastic utensils.

One of my table mates -- who clearly had the time of her life on opening night -- told me she'd also attended the Fells Point predecessor to this production, and for a year afterward she found herself thinking of Tony and Tina every time she went to a wedding. I know what she means; prospective brides and grooms might consider attending this show as a guide to what to avoid at their wedding.

At the end of the evening, the bride's mother (played with Rosie O'Donnell-style brashness by Janet Paone) accurately sums up the experience when she grabs the microphone and says, "I've seen a lot of things here tonight that have made me sick. But I've also seen some things that make me very happy."

"Tony n' Tina's Wedding" is a lot like a visit to an amusement park. For some people, it's the Tunnel of Love; for others, it's like riding the roller coaster after eating too much cotton candy.

`Tony n' Tina's Wedding'

Where: Scarlett Place, Third Floor, 250 S. President St.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 5 p.m. and 8: 30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $43.50-$58.50

Call: 410-752-1200 Pub Date: 10/02/99

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