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Gambit Weekly Wedded Bliss

By Dalt Wonk

MARCH 9, 1998:  As I was alone and not related to either of the families in this wedding, I found myself sitting at a table of strangers at the reception. Across from me sat a white-haired elderly gentleman -- quiet and dapper, with mischievous eyes. He was wearing a rather loud tie in an abstract pattern of blue swirls. Something in his manner seemed irresistible to young women, who stopped at frequent intervals to comment on the distinctive neckwear. To all inquiries, the gentleman answered, "Rush Limbaugh gave it to me."

This non sequitur, delivered in a polite deadpan, had just sped another confused young admirer on her way, when the woman to my left pointed to one of the Cavatella girls (or was she a Provalone?) who was sitting at a neighboring table in a tight, sequined, knee-length dress with her legs in a position that would have been appropriate if she were riding in a steeple chase and wearing jodhpurs.

"Yes, but look at that one!" rejoined the lady to my right, whose name was Olga and who was -- at the age of 79, I later learned -- the mayor pro tem of Abita Springs. She pointed to a young woman, not far from the brazen Miss Cavatella (or Provalone) sitting in a posture that was only slightly less provocative.

"And," added Olga, "she's not even getting paid for it!"

The point was, of course, that the first object of our amusement was an actress, the second a mere audience member like ourselves. But by this time, it was getting harder and harder to make the distinction.

This confusion of the boundaries of theater has been one of the obsessions of our century. There seems to be a feeling that the old, formal differentiation between the observer and the observed is not a sufficiently "modern" viewpoint. And so, in the realm of high art, there have been literary investigations of ambiguity like Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. Not to mention those confrontational assaults on the public favored famously by the living theater and its various clones.

Joey 'n' Mary's Irish-Italian Comedy Wedding, currently on view at Carlone's Dinner Theatre, is admittedly a cousin twice or thrice removed from the above-mentioned experiments. But although its method is broad and farcical, its disruption of normal theatrical conventions is, in many ways, more complete -- as the astute comment by the mayor pro tem revealed.

Curiously, the method by which Joe 'n' Mary's creates this ambiguous world compounded of art and life is by initially underlining the distinction. The characters are all "types" -- grotesque exaggerations of the familiar. In fact, they are deliberate cliches: the Mafioso don, the Sicilian grandma in her widow's weeds, the Irish politician. The costumes are outrageous and vivid -- meant to make the characters visible amid the wild confusion that is unleashed in every part of the hall.

What happens, however, is that this large cast of likable loonies creates a mood of abandon that gradually draws in the audience by a spiritual osmosis of silliness. Most of the audience, I have to say, was more predisposed to this very broad, "sing-a-long" type of entertainment than I was. But, as the evening went along (and after a few glasses of wine), my resistance melted away. It's a bit like setting out for a certain destination and running into a parade. At first, you're disgruntled -- but before you realize it, you've given in to the insanity and are having an unexpected good time.

The evening starts at the wedding ceremony itself. Joseph Anthony Cavatella (Dane Rhodes) is marrying Mary Catherine Mulligan (Mary Lee Gibbons). Father McPorter (Michael Sullivan) officiates while parents, siblings, cousins and friends strive ineptly to fulfill their various roles. The fun is generally not in the inventiveness of the script, but rather in the familiarity of the archetypes -- as in a contemporary version of commedia del arte. The inclusion of a hired male escort (a Protestant, no less!) for the bride's mother, however, is an offbeat touch.

But it is at the reception, which takes place in an adjoining room, that the production really picks up steam. Here, the characters take on lives of their own, and the boundaries between stage and life become, at times, hilariously confused.

The cast is large (24 characters), and the actors throw themselves into their roles with verve and impromptu gaiety. This is probably not going to be a big favorite with devotees of the late works of Samuel Beckett. But, judging by the audience on the night I saw it, Joey 'n' Mary's might be at Carlone's for an extended stay. .

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