There’s a great moment in the opening scene of Lewis Black’s One Slight Hitch that introduces us to two characters in a delightfully unexpected way. From that point on, surprises are subject to severely diminishing returns, but snappy dialogue and a mostly great cast make up for the fact that we’ve seen all these wedding-day hijinks on stage before.
One might expect a blisteringly acerbic edge from a play by Black, the frequently apoplectic comedian and Daily Show contributor who began writing One Slight Hitch in the early ’80s (when the play is also set), but the humor tends to be more good-natured than scathing. Despite a few cultural references and a late-in-the-game monologue – more on that later – seemingly designed to indict Reagan-era materialism and excess, farce far outweighs satire.
In a slipshod framing device that never really pays off, the scene is set by P.B. (Katherine Grant-Suttie), the youngest of three daughters in a middle-class Cincinnati family. It’s her sister Courtney’s (Kimberley Sustad) wedding day, and while mother Delia (Marianne Owen) frets and father Doc (R. Hamilton Wright) soothes, the whole affair is threatened by the appearance of ex-boyfriend Ryan (Shawn Telford), whose drop-in visit couldn’t have come at a worse time.
A writer and an emerging modern woman, Courtney is the kind of person no one expected to ever get married, least of all Ryan, but despite the family’s doubts, they’re mostly happy about the impending union to über-WASP Harper (John Ulman). But will seeds of doubt be sown? Naturally.
One Slight Hitch may not be terribly adventurous either structurally or narratively, but Black’s ability to craft a sharp turn of phrase is frequently on display. The best marriage of writing and acting comes in Wright’s turn as a thoughtful patriarch whose sanity devolves into a potpourri of exasperation and inebriation. Wright is one of Seattle theater’s greatest treasures, and his game performance is reason enough to recommend the play. Owen’s frayed-nerve apprehension and Kirsten Potter’s boozy nonchalance as older sister Melanie are also quite welcome.
The only performance that doesn’t click is Telford’s as the liberal, pill-popping Ryan, a guy who’s supposed to be hitchhiking across the country in an attempt to be the next Kerouac. Telford seems beamed in from another play with another character description entirely, his screechy, mannered performance not jibing with the notion of him as an irresponsible intellectual.
Nevertheless, One Slight Hitch is a consistently funny farce with nimble direction by Joe Grifasi, who makes good use of the single living room set. It’s just not much more than that. As the play winds down, Owen gets a monologue that attempts to retroactively weave in some thematic weight about the evolution of women’s roles and the increasingly self-centered mindset of the 1980s. It’s both well written and convincingly delivered, but it’s not that convincing as a summation of the play’s ideas. One Slight Hitch is ultimately kind of slight, but it’s hardly unsatisfying.
One Slight Hitch is on stage at ACT Theatre through July 8. Tickets are available for purchase online.