I hate using terms like comedy and drama together, but they aptly describe Christopher Chen’s The Late Wedding. The play, inspired by the whimsical stories of Italian writer Italo Calvino, examines life, love, and the rituals that people follow to keep things interesting. The play does not have a plot, per se. Instead, it examines the rituals of romance by weaving together five “love” stories that take place in varied settings including a revolution, a space adventure, and a memory. It sounds uncanny, but this fantasy, now enjoying a new production at the University of Maryland, works as a comic, dramatic inquiry into human relationships — between lovers or spouses, between playwright and audience. This witty play delves into relationships but does not take itself too seriously.
The Late Wedding revolves around a narrator, played by several of the actors, but most often by Nelson Chen. Chen starts the show by speaking directly to the audience with Italo Calvino’s novel The Invisible Cities in hand. He explains to the audience what to expect. He is friendly and engaging. He works to make the audience comfortable with the journey we are about to take.
Under the direction of Kathryn Chase Bryer, The Late Wedding is divided into scenes by seven musical vignettes to set mood and time (sound design by Gordon Nimmo-Smith). The ensemble is portrayed by six diverse, incredibly accomplished actors in multiple roles. One particularly memorable moment involved actors in a spy scene using benches to create train seating.
The music choices are intentionally minimal. They create a very detailed tapestry for when and where a narrative takes place and can trigger viewers to experience the same feelings from a particular period. This is important in The Late Wedding. Chen attempts to reveal relationships the audience can identify with. In one scene, calm music, “Looks Like We Made It,” introduces one of the most chaotic scenes in the one-act play about a man and woman who marry and buy a house but go on separate honeymoons and never get physical.
The Kogod Theatre at the University of Maryland provided a first-rate theater-in-the-round experience with extravagant lighting above the set providing the audience an other-world experience at times. Lighting Designer Christina Kouni Smith and Projection Designer Mark Williams did some heavy lifting in allowing sets to move from intimate rooms to an inn, a multi-level spaceship, and eventually an island beach.
Bailey Hammett’s costumes were versatile. The crew on the spaceship were a mix between the old Flash Gordon and original Star Trek. The trenchcoats on the spies made me think more of streakers, but that might say more of my days in College Park than anything else. My favorite costume was the black hat and capes donned by Amer Kuo and Kayleigh Gallagher as they played a couple who agreed to be interviewed.
In her director’s note, Bryer says Chen’s “musings on love and loss may lead us to question our own relationships, to examine them and perhaps, in the end to cherish them all the more.” But it is like I tell creative writing students: don’t tell me, show me. The play had 91 minutes to show me this, but at times it felt like it was trying too hard to tell me.
Running Time: About 90 minutes, with no intermission.
The Late Wedding plays through April 28, 2023, presented by UMD School of Theatre Dance and Performance Studies performing in the Kogod Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, 8270 Alumni Dr, College Park, MD 20742. Purchase tickets (PWYW) at the door or online.
The program for The Late Wedding is online here.
COVID Safety: Masks are encouraged but not required.
The Late Wedding
By Christopher Chen
Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer
Actor 1 (Narrator/General/Sailor): Nelson Chen, Actor 2 (Curtis/Spy/Captain): Ryan Nock, Actor 3 (Lee/Adama/Terry/Jorda): Amberly Kuo, Actor 4 (Kei/Stranger/Ali): Kayley Childs, Actor 5 (Fen/Raya/Han): Katrina Marinelli, Actor 6 (Evelyn/Eleanor/Jean): Kayleigh Gallagher.
Movement & Intimacy Director, Robert Bowen Smith; Scenic Designer, Brandon Roak; Costume Designer, Bailey Hammett; Lighting Designer, Christina Kouni Smith; Projection Designer, Mark Williams; Sound Designer, Gordon Nimmo-Smith; Stage Manager, Jillian Harvey; Movement Captain, Mars Burggraf.