When TheaterWorks Hartford announced that it wanted to do “Zoey’s Perfect Wedding” for the summer of 2021, it was at a time when folks were still hesitant about having real weddings indoors. The theater ended up being closed for most of that year, with the company doing virtual shows and the memorable outdoor play “Walden” that summer instead.
The time again seems right again for a big noisy wedding.
“Zoey’s Perfect Wedding” is a riotous comedy by Matthew Lopez, whose drag-club adventure “The Legend of Georgia McBride” was a crowd-pleasing hit for TheaterWorks in 2018. Lopez is also known for such heavy dramas as “The Whipping Man, ” “Somewhere” and “Reverberation” — all of which were done by Hartford Stage between 2012 and 2015 — as well as the 2018 London and Broadway sensation “The Inheritance,” an epic literary take on gay life in the 20th century loosely inspired by to EM Forster novel.
As a playwright, Lopez can seem to conjure up any tone or emotion he wants, and for “Zoey’s Perfect Wedding” he has created a raucous comedy about a Brooklyn wedding that, as his stage directions suggest, “wants to be elegant but it was clearly done on the cheap” and includes a ceremony in which “a lot of Rilke” is recited.
A lot goes wrong at the reception. TheaterWorks Marketing Director Freddie McInerney says that “instead of ‘fiasco,’ we’re using the phrase ‘disastrously fun.'”
“Zoey’s Perfect Wedding” is directed by TheaterWorks’ Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero, who directed “Georgia McBride” four years ago.
Rachel B. Joyce, the New York-based actor who plays bride, says she’s “very excited, after this time of isolation and self-taped auditions, to be a doing a live play again,” one where she gets to interact so energetically with the rest of the cast.
“I’m also just excited about doing an entire play in a wedding gown,” she says, which was purchased from David’s Bridal in Manchester.
“I went with Rob and the costume designer. I had to let the people there know that I wasn’t really a bride, so they wouldn’t do all the special things a bridal shop does, like ring the bell. It was fun to think of Zoey and what her dress would be, and I had to remind myself that I wasn’t getting the dress for myself. But that’s all I’ll say — it’s bad luck to reveal the dress before the day!”
“The entire play takes place at a reception for this wedding,” Joyce says. “It’s high everything: high emotions, high stress… The bride is feeling a lot of emotions. The whole play runs on a motor that is go-go-go. It’s not like all-out stage combat, but there’s a lot of choreographic movement. We’re really scrambling over each other.
“There are only six of us [actors] to represent the entire wedding.”
One of the elements setting the fast pace: a DJ spinning everything from wedding-friendly standards to ’80s pop hits.
“The play takes place in 2008,” Joyce says, which means COVID and other recent world events aren’t in the air. “It’s just enough of a period piece. There’s talk about Obama.”
One actor in the company came to “Zoey’s Perfect Wedding” from a different path than agents, managers and New York auditions. Hallie Eliza Friedman plays Zoey’s cousin Missy, who’s pressed into service as a wedding planner. Friedman’s a student at the Hartt School, whose previous off-campus shows in the area include a reading of Thornton Wilder’s “The Long Christmas Dinner” at Hartford Stage and playing Rapunzel in “Into the Woods” for Playhouse on Park’s Connecticut Shakespeare Festival last summer .
“My relationship with TheaterWorks started with ‘The River,’” she says, citing the Jez Butterworth drama that Ruggiero directed in the fall of 2018. “I saw it for school and I absolutely loved it. I wrote an essay for class on the 20-minute completely silent scene where you just see this man gutting a fish. Then in my sophomore year, I interned there when they were doing ‘American Son.’”
Friedman now finds herself onstage in a TheaterWorks show.
“There’s such great energy in the room,” she says. “For many of us, this is the first production we’ve done since the pandemic.”
The rest of the “Zoey’s Perfect Wedding” cast includes Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Blair Lewin and Daniel José as friends of the bride, and Esteban Carmona as the wedding DJ. That’s right, the groom (whose name is Patrick) is not a big character in the play.
And what does Friedman’s character Missy wear to the wedding?
“I wear a beautiful floral pink dress. My favorite thing about it is that I have to wear a fanny pack, and I love wearing fanny packs. My fanny pack and my clipboard will be color coordinated to match the dress.”
“Zoey’s Perfect Wedding” runs April 30 through June 5 at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm., Saturdays at 2:30 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm $65. twhartford.org.
This story was altered to correct the spelling of Hallie Eliza Friedman’s name.
Christopher Arnott can be reached at [email protected]