Put some fresh double A’s in your Walk-Man, because One Slight Hitch is a delightful, nostalgic trip back to the 80’s.
Hitch tells the story of the Coleman family, living out their version of the American Dream in suburban Ohio in 1981 and about to marry off the first of their three daughters. Yes, the play is about planning a wedding, but it’s mostly about the Colemans and the relationships within their family. The title is somewhat misleading as there are many small hitches and one big hitch along the way, but none of that detracts from the play’s ability to entertain. Director Ann Heywood’s notes in the playbill provide some context for Lewis Black’s somewhat auto-biographic play: he originally wrote the play in 1980 and it shows what might have happened when his real-life girlfriend left him and announced she was marrying another man. Heywood also lets us know, before we begin, that there is more to this story than “just a comedy of chaos.”
The set of the play is the living room of Doc & Delia Coleman’s house. The Colemans are portrayed with great chemistry by Rick Hamblin and Kathy Strouse. The story centers around the wedding of their oldest daughter Courtney, played by Sarah Brown, to Harper, played by Andrew Willis. Delia Coleman, whose dream wedding was foregone in the rush to marry Doc after World War II, has planned an elaborate backyard wedding, and everyone is expected to help, especially their youngest daughter, P.B. (Abby Fedorowicz). In an obvious but excellent bit of foreshadowing, Delia accidentally refers to the groom by the name of Ryan, Courtney’s recent ex-boyfriend, a “starving” novelist in New York City, and almost immediately, who should arrive but Ryan (capably portrayed by Nicholas Nauert).
One Slight Hitch is well-written and funny. The play is described as a farce on the Little Theatre of Norfolk’s website. Without giving too much away, the play proceeds with physical humor (characters entering and exiting the stage in perfect time to just miss each other) and delicious dramatic irony. A farce is only as good as its doors, and the living room set did not disappoint. The cast had great timing and the doors opened and stayed closed when they were supposed to. Delightfully, the staircase wall was decorated with 80’s throwback “glamour shots” of the Coleman women.
While the majority of the play embodied realism, there were a few select moments when a lighting shift transported us into a different world, most notably when P.B. puts on the headphones to her Walk-Man and the lights changed colors while the theatre swelled with 80’s music and Fedorowicz shows of her 80’s dance moves. Unfortunately, the few sound effects (like the Coleman’s doorbell) seemed out of place - a bit too loud and coming from the wrong direction - though it didn’t seem to distract the audience.
Black’s many one-liners landed very well with the audience, though some of the headier jokes fell flat among the older theatre-goers despite the best efforts of the ensemble. Heywood has led a strong ensemble, and the cast does a great job telling the story. In particular the scenes between Hamblin and Strouse and any scene with the middle sister Melanie (Jillian Wain) are noteworthy. Wain showed great timing and chemistry with Fedorowcz and Nauert; she continued to bring levity even during the play’s slower, more poignant moments. Willis as Harper was the least interesting to watch, though that may have been more about the dullness of Harper as a character, rather than Willis’s ability as an actor.
Costume designer Danielle Gaines does not disappoint with purple taffeta bridesmaids dresses with big poofy sleeves, and a wonderfully hideous amount of bows and different kinds of lace on Courtney’s wedding dress.
Certainly, one would relate to more of this play if one has recently planned a wedding (or indeed ever planned a wedding). Having just planned my own wedding, I personally empathised with the frustrated Delia dealing with caterers setting up in the wrong order and a late florist. However, all members of the audience should understand the pressure on Courtney to live up to her parents’ expectations.
It would be easy to write off a farce set in the early 80’s as a piece of frivolity, but One Slight Hitch surprises us with some heavier themes and questions which are still relevant decades later: How are the dreams of parents for their children different from children’s perception of their parents’ expectations of/wants for them? How do different generations perceive and prioritize the American Dream? Is marriage as an institution right for everyone and how does it perpetuate the patriarchy?
But Hitch has more to offer than simply the joys and frustrations of planning and executing a wedding. The family dynamics are relatable - sisterly spats, fathers misunderstanding their daughters, but there is a lot more to it than just that. The family dynamics are very relatable. For audience members of a certain age, nostalgia for the 80’s makes for a great time. And finally, in the face of such chaos, crisis, and difficulties, the play delivers a satisfying happy ending for the whole family.
One Slight Hitch runs through November 24th at the Little Theatre of Norfolk.
Words by Denise Bishop. Photos courtesy of Little Theatre of Norfolk.