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Human Race’s “One Slight Hitch” is pure Lewis Black

By Jacqui Theobald

The opening night audience left The Loft still almost dancing to the upbeat ’80s music, smiling and cheerful after enjoying “One Slight Hitch,” the fast paced, crammed with on-liners, directed with superb timing story of the worst possible wedding day.

Director Margarett Perry has it all coordinated: background music, characterizations and the near-slapstick situations of playwright Lewis Black’s imagination. She has a uniformly able cast that puts it all together and makes it believable.

The cast is headed by two skillful comedians, Brian Dykstra and Rita Rehn, playing the parents of three daughters. Mom, Delia, projects her longing to have a perfect wedding, hoping to pull off the wedding she and dad, Doc, couldn’t have, due to his being in the service at the time of the Korean War. Doc wants to do anything to make her happy. Dykstra is master of the confounded-dad face, mobile features, tripping over his own feet and doing it all with calculated grace and sense of comedy. (Black’s best one-liners: “Men are born to fail.” “Being taken for granted is the cornerstone of a good marriage.”)

Rehn scurries happily with her to-do lists, until the bride’s old boyfriend shows up. From then until the plot-twisting finale, Rehn has and uses every opportunity to suffer the indignities of the old boyfriend hidden in the bathroom to the florist being in jail to an extra groom to no groom. She cries, she shouts she staggers with an unintended drug overdose, she faints, she has a moment of poignancy and finally a very satisfactory solution.

The story begins with a narrative by the youngest daughter, P.B. (Cecily Dowd). It’s as if she’s looking back from a later perspective and has become her teen self again, remembering the time of her oldest sister’s wedding. In real life, she’s a junior in high school who dances her way through her first professional role, but certainly not her first stage experience. “One Slight Hitch” isn’t a musical, but director Perry and sound designer Todd Mack Reischman inserted more era-appropriate music.

Dowd uses that and her fine sense of comedy to add youthful spirit. She moves with assurance and infuses her character with remarkable personality. A star is born! Perry remarked “she shouldn’t be this good at her age.”

Dana Berger is the bride, Courtney, more than a brainless babe. She’s a successful writer, using a fine sprinkling of literary references. She does suffer from indecision when it comes to men. Courtney, like the mom, rides an emotional roller coaster. She has a fine grip on the ups and downs and takes possession of the stage. It’s a further display of this talent-laden cast.

Alex Sunderhaus is the middle sister, Melanie. She’s a nurse and a lush (with plenty of drinking relatives) and when the old boyfriend Ryan appears, she aggressively comes on to him. What fun, but unsuccessful. Again, a role with variety, well done.

Early on, the old boyfriend Ryan appears at the front door, in great need of a bath and clean clothes, ignorant, he says, that it’s Courtney’s wedding day. Alex Curtis is cool, buff (we see him in a towel much of the time) and part of the “who’s on first,” door-slamming-hide-the-body style of comedy that requires that perfect timing. He makes a convincing literate, lost 30-year-old idealist. This play demands a lot physically, not only agility, but also just the right facial expressions. Curtis is particularly adept at both.

Finally we see the new boyfriend, Harper, played by Kyle Nunn, who’s too perfect looking and behaving to be true. The family seems to prefer the flawed Ryan. Nunn does super-human to perfection. Black heightens the confusion by giving Doc an inability to call the groom Harper, not Ryan.

Director Perry talks about the art of directing comedy. “It’s hard,” she said. “You can’t push people. It has to be human, a felt experience. The universality has to be recognizable, while the point of view is unique. My job is to create an atmosphere where the actors can explore. I love actors; they’re creative.”

It took plenty of her creativity and planning to synchronize, down to the second, the timing of hiding Ryan, shielding Mom and avoiding Harper’s parents.

Other professionals from the Human Race Theatre Company worked on this show with extraordinary creativity. John Rensel, the long-standing lighting designer, augments with surprising floor to ceiling circles of multicolored light. Rico Stewart is production engineer. Jay Brunner is sound engineer.

Kay Carver is production stage manager and keeps it all running smoothly. Ray Zupp designed the beautiful interior. Head carpenter is Eric Moore.

Heather Powell, properties master, can find or make anything. For this show in addition to the usual, she made two fertility fetishes, like Easter Island sculptures. They leave no doubt as to their purpose or ability.

Janet Powell did costumes, mostly casual and comfortable, except for an overwhelming wedding dress just too 1980s, a spoof itself.

Black’s play has been workshopped and performed in a few community theaters, but this is the first professional production. The one-liners come rapidly, the comedy situations are classic. A judicious editing to shorten it just a bit and would tighten it into an even more appealing audience pleaser.

“One Slight Hitch” runs through April 24 in the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. in Dayton. Tickets are $27-$50. For show times, tickets or more information, please visit humanracetheatre.org or ticketcenterstage.com or call 937.461.3823 or 937.228.3630.

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com

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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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