Emblazoned across the red velvet curtain at Pinnacle Charter School’s Performing Arts Complex is the phrase “’Til Death Do Us Part” in sultry script immediately alerting the audience to the evening’s temperament: a bit coy and tongue in cheek (despite the falling divorce rate) but also a bit terrifying—death, we hope, is a ways away yet. In his pre-performance address, Wonderbound’s Garrott Ammon, the company’s artistic director, told the origin of the evening’s show. As he and composer Tom Hagerman (of DeVotchka fame) batted around ideas to embody the seven deadly sins, they kept coming back time and again to weddings because, as Ammon puts it, “There’s something about the pressure of that moment…some of the worst things in people can come out.” The jaded wedding attendee in me nods and laughs remembering a bridezilla of a few years ago. It’s all one big, ridiculous, comedy of errors, bacchanalian, capitalistic brouhaha for the self-righteous and entitled–or at least that’s the impression Wonderbound gives.
A bevy of string players (a baker’s dozen to be exact)–violinists, violists, cellists and a bassist–from the Colorado Symphony led by Concertmaster Claude Sim take the side stage. The musicians play a joyful and beautiful, seemingly Baroque-inspired, piece to open the show. Once the curtain rises, we see giant presents topped with candy-colored bows on a table. The Bride, played by Marian Faustino, The Maid of Honor, played by Sarah Tallman, and The Bridesmaid played by Tessa Moore, take the stage with squeals of glee. The Mother of the Bride, who Amy Fogarty plays with a wallflower’s sheepishness, and The Mother of the Groom, a brazen spotlight-stealer played by Morgan Sicklick, enter soon after. Faustino brilliantly captures the infantile excitement and attention span of opening presents as she tosses aside boxes with a mere glance and even crawls inside another box to dig until she’s satisfied she’s found everything inside. Always holding the trump card, The Mother of the Bride unveils her gift, nearly twice the size of the others: a bar-chested-yet-bowtie-collared Damien Patterson, whom the women swoon over. The stripper feels more in line with lust than greed, but it potentially speaks to the increased commercialism of women’s own sexuality as seen by Victoria’s Secret and Magic Mike. As the women exit the stage, Tallman is left behind to clean up, an all-too-familiar situation for many maids of honor, until Faustino returns to drag her gifts off stage like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
After the bridal shower, the scene transitions to the bachelor party. Connor Horak, in the quintessential attire of a LoDo bar regular– sideways baseball cap, mirrored white sunglasses, shiny blue shirt and white pants—takes the stage, nipping from a pocket flask at various intervals. Here is our Best Man: up to no good and with nothing but time (and booze.) Soon, Dylan G-Bowley, The Groom joins him, their bromance on full display during an elaborate secret handshake/hug ritual. The Father of the Groom, played by a stooped Corbin Kalinowski, and a cane-dependent Father of the Bride, played by Evan Flood, climb into the Best Man’s car as they ride to the bar where they egg each other on, play pranks and slump so much into their chairs that they appear to be melting. In one of the few moments where Ammon delves into deeper emotional territory, G-Bowley performs a solo while the others sit back. A particularly poignant moment occurs when G-Bowley wraps his arm over his head and turns his chin as if wrestling himself and his upcoming nuptials. The Maid of Honor and The Bridesmaid enter the same bar and end up rescuing The Groom from his drunken state. Knowing a truly slothful performance would have the audience snoozing, Ammon, aided by Hagerman’s rambling score that aurally imbues laziness, successfully balances dance and sloth in this scene. Patterson gives a powerful solo performance during the transition between scenes that has him hitting his thighs and wrenching his head from side to side that feels like a metaphor for self-loathing and hatred.
Next up: the rehearsal dinner or, more fittingly, slaughterhouse. The scene begins with everyone stoic and aggressively cutting and eating their food. We’ve all been there: everyone sick of each other, holding onto petty and not-so-petty grievances until anger finally explodes. As quickly as alliances are drawn they dissolve. The dinner party turns on one another, everyone for himself. Chairs morph into machine guns, swords, shields. It’s the slap-stick chaos of a food fight meets school-yard fight meets Wile E. Coyote and, just like all those things, it’s loads of fun to watch.
The following scene takes us to the Big Day inside the Bride’s room. We peek through the frame of a lighted mirror. There’s The Maid of Honor dutifully hanging the dresses. Here’s The Bridesmaid enraptured with her own reflection. There’s The Mother of the Bride forced to be the wallflower yet again. Here’s The Mother of the Groom demanding her proper due. The Bridesmaid is left alone, save for the bridal gown, in the room. The Bridesmaid caresses the gown’s tulle layers and day dreams of her own wedding day. But such reverie can’t last as The Maid of Honor catches her; havoc ensues as The Bride, Maid of Honor and Mothers try to steal back the dress. The Bride comes out the victor but only by tearing the dress in half.
The wedding occurs after intermission with several audience members seated on stage snapping cellphone selfies. The wedding party takes turns down the aisle: The Best Man in a tux but still with a sideways cap and sunglasses, The Maid of Honor in a huff, The Mother of the Bride as mousy as ever, The Mother of the Groom as if she’s on her own personal catwalk as she stops to pose for a few pics. The Groom’s knees buckle but The Best Man pulls him to his feet just in time to see The Bride. On her father’s arm, she seems to float down the aisle, trailing a twenty-foot long train that inevitably falls to the bridesmaids to manage. After a few cursory remarks by The Minister, played by Damien Patterson, The Bride and Groom perform a pas de deux. While beautiful and full of joy, there’s a tinge of cynicism to the duet: The Bride and Groom are so engrossed in each other and themselves, that it’s almost as if they believe they are the only two beings to ever fall in love, that they are the ones who invented marriage in the first place. Patterson and Flood then perform a duet between scenes that’s fraught with tension but remains ambiguous as to the piece’s meaning. Is the tension sexual, religious, a fight between two figureheads? Regardless, the pair dance well together and the use of the Father’s cane as a prop is skillfully executed.
The wedding party gorges itself after stacking plates high with food in the assembly/buffet line at the reception. Soon after, the dance party starts. Ammon artfully integrates every iconic dance of the last three decades from the electric slide to the moon walk to the Macarena to an embarrassing Miley Cyrus twerking moment by The Bridesmaid, all to the audience’s great delight. A Footloose-style dance gauntlet occurs and alliances again change, this time with the hunched-over Mother of the Bride and Father of the Groom developing their own romance. When The Mother of the Bride finally kicks The Mother of the Groom in the derriere, the audience erupts in approving claps.
Finally, The Bride and Groom are alone and in bed but now they both take turns being shy and nervous, hung up on past/imagined lovers or dealing with an Oedipal Complex in the case of The Groom. Scantily-clad men dance crawl out from under the bed and dance around The Bride. The Mother of the Groom then crawls out from under the sheet and chases him around, trying to smother him with her love. The Bride and Groom, after fending off Mothers and would-be lovers, settle into bed together. But they aren’t alone for long as the chorus comes back, swirling around the pair before lifting Faustino above G-Bowley in an ecstatic, climatic moment that ends the performance. The lights go out and the music stops just like that, and the audience is left, at the peak of passion, without a denouement.
As with any Wonderbound show, the choreography, music, costumes, lighting and set design are spot on. The dancers execute each move with precision and grace and there is no shortage of fun for the audience. The live music adds more energy and human connection. The costumes smartly cue the audience to each character’s personality and are lovely designs in and of themselves. The show itself is seamlessly crafted with a single prop functioning in myriad ways, the lighting always where it needs to be and the transitions between scenes occurring so smoothly and efficiently as to appear unnoticeable.
Yet despite the level of artistry, the show feels too one dimensional in its sole reliance on comedy and cynicism—however apropos both may be—to the current state of weddings. While Wonderbound firmly grasps humor’s capability to expose societal mores and traditions, there is more to be leveraged from humor than poking fun at something or someone no matter how deserving of that poking the thing or person is. When I think of my favorite humorists like Richard Pryor, Tig Notaro, Lorrie Moore, A.M. Homes, David Foster Wallace and Steve Almond to name but a few, I think of their ability to vacillate between humor and anger and sadness and joy from one moment to the next. They use humor to speak the truth and to confront that same truth. And they do so with a depth of empathy and precision that’s feels, as one of my poet friends likes to say, “like you’ve been punched in the gut.” This emotional depth is what lifts a dance, a painting, a song, a story to art. There were times in “The Seven Deadly Sins” that Wonderbound grasped at this like G-Bowley’s solo in the bachelor party and Patterson’s transitional solo, but the moments felt more like flukes than intentional emotional shifts. With Wonderbound’s transition into the story telling business over the past few seasons, its clear Ammon has refined his narrative voice. Yet, I think that voice can be even sharper, wittier, more profound and gut-wrenching if it reaches past those easy laughs.
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works for Denver-based art consulting firm, NINE dot ARTS, where she helps companies tell their stories through art. She sits on the boards of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from DailyServing and Quaint Magazine.