Only three weeks remain before it’s too late to attend the wedding of the year, held nightly (except Tuesdays) and twice a day on weekends. Eva, that gorgeous femme, is finally getting married… to a man.
Just don’t tell her ex, Carlo.
Eva’s mother, Maria, has spared no expense in choosing an intimate, exclusive venue, just a few steps off Broadway: the Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center, dressed-up like a Northern California barn, with seating for just a few more than 100 guests—and Maria made sure there’s no shortage of wine. You don’t need to bring a gift, but you will need a ticket, unless of course you plan to crash the event—like Carlo.
We first meet Carlo as she addresses the children’s table, drink in hand—not her last one, either, not by a long shot—as she terrorizes the kiddos by describing love as “the worst pain you’ll feel in your life.”
Carlo is played energetically and so very movingly by actress Mary Wiseman, who, in an ironic twist, is both queer and did in fact marry a man in a barn, a wedding that merited a story in The New York Times.
Wiseman appears opposite Rebecca S’manga Frank, who glows as Eva. They’re the stars of At the Wedding, a funny yet heartbreaking one-act play by the incredible Bryna Turner, skillfully directed by Jenna Worsham. The show runs nightly (remember, except on Tuesdays, and twice on weekends) through April 24.
Carolyn McCormick is memorable as Maria, the very inebriated mother of the bride, albeit her one scene is far too brief. Also in the cast: Keren Lugo excels in every moment she’s on stage as Carlo’s foil, the bridesmaid Carly; Jorge Donoso serves up a sympathetic performance as Victor the bartender and waiter, with the equally artful Will Rogers and the alluring Han Van Sciver as wedding guests Eli and Leigh. Each character interacts with Wiseman’s Carlo in ways that provoke, challenge and confuse her. But ultimately, this is the tale of one troubled soul, with a single-minded goal.
Fans of the Paramount+ streaming series, Star Trek: Discovery, know Wiseman as Lieutenant Sylvia Tilly, who in the fourth season of the show leaves the ship to teach at Starfleet Academy. In a recent interview, showrunner Michelle Paradise promised me Tilly will return in season five, now in production.
But it’s clear from seeing Wiseman perform in person, her true home is not among the stars, but on the stage.
The New York Times’ Jesse Green hailed the show as “funny,” “fresh” and “trenchant.” He praised Wiseman for both her look—”her curly red mop piled high like a lesbian Lucy, a brilliant showcase for her split-level comic genius,” and for her performance, calling it “a comic tour-de-force.”
Green wrote that Wiseman delivers Turner’s “two-punch rhythm of jokes” and “makes them hilarious by making them sad at the same time. Though focusing her ire on the wedding as a false celebration—’I’ve seen more convincing fire drills,’ she says—Carlo is really gnawing at the scar of attachment itself. For those who are no good at staying in love, gift-grabs like this are worse than embarrassments; they’re torture.”
I had the opportunity to meet Wiseman, along with her costar Han Van Sciver, following a preview last month, and she answered questions about At the Wedding.
“This character was not explicitly written for me,” Wiseman told me. “Nearly all the scenes in this production were written well before I was cast and I’m not the first actor to play this role. It’s a testament to Bryna’s writing and the nuance and care of their language that it feels that way to you. I also find Bryna’s language incredibly easy to speak. There’s some nice kismet there. Bryna was pretty reserved in rehearsal so I didn’t really get to study their vocal rhythms the way I might usually try to, but I’m told I sound like them when they drink so… that’s cool! I will say that this role is deeply freeing. I feel myself in it, comfortable in it and that is a gift.”
“I have always known Mary as a extremely talented theater actor and just a total theater rat in the best sense of the word,” Worsham, the director, told me in a recent Zoom interview. “I had met her up at Williamstown when we were both doing different shows up there, and long admired the force that is Mary Wiseman. So Star Trek came later, and it was like, ‘Oh, like, good for her. Great!’ You know, you’re going to get paid a lot better than the stuff we love doing, right? You know, Broadway shows. But I had sort of been looking for a play that I would have the opportunity to work with her on. And she had been, I think, on Bryna and my minds for a while for this part.”
“I had heard great things, but I actually haven’t had the chance to see her. I hadn’t totally clocked her. And when she came in and read for this, it was just like, “Oh my God!’ She’s so funny,” said Turner, the playwright. “It feels like she’s making every single thing up in the moment, which is just like, you can’t look away. It’s so incredible to watch. And this is a wild part. You know, she has to do a lot and she has to talk for a long time, and it takes a really special performer to pull off something like this.
“I’ve seen her do this with other plays, too,” added Worsham. “I remember knowing that she was going to salivate over Bryna’s language, because she’s very much a theater actor in the purest sense, where she informs her performance based on the rhythm of the writer. Bryna is a deeply rhythmic playwright. If you’ve seen a hard copy of the play, it’s written almost in stanzas, the the line breaks and everything. They really inform the kind of emotion and the comedy of the scene, and Mary is someone who is innately attuned to that in whatever play she inhabits. Her gift for that, in a beautiful way, magnified the writing,”
“I feel very lucky to get to play in this role,” added Wiseman. “I don’t often see roles this big and funny and complicated so I know it’s rare and I’m very grateful. Especially as a fat woman. This is my Falstaff! I’m also hyper aware of how many people are still waiting for this opportunity themselves. I’m greedy for more for everyone.”
What follows is an excerpt of my conversation with Turner and Worsham, which is lightly edited for clarity and space.
Ennis: What is the inspiration for this story?
Turner: Heartbreak. It was heartbreak, right from the beginning. This person who is just like gripped by this heartbreak and finds that it’s given her a lot of wisdom about how the world works and you kind of have to listen to it, whether you want to or not, which is, you know, sort of like, let me tell you how it is because the whole world sounds crazy and only Carlo can really see the truth, at least, this is what Carlo thinks, and the sort of first half of the play is built that way.”
Ennis: What’s changed since you first wrote this play?
Turner: This play has gone on many journeys. It has been all sorts of things, but we found a heartbroken person at a wedding, something that is so universal that at some point we even had a first act in ancient Greece, where Carlo was the prophet Cassandra. And eventually we decided, “No, no, no. This is the play that takes place over one night in a contemporary wedding.” But at some point it contained all of history. It was this sort of ancient curse of Cassandra, who has seen the future, but no one will listen to her. Then, you know, in the revision, that’s maybe too ambitious, too wild. So ultimately, we found that Carlo perhaps believed she has a curse, but it might be a different person. The ancient mariner sort of came in.”
Worsham: “There was also like a sort of medieval component at one time. The scene that I will never forget was these two lesbian witches who are about to be burned at the stake, and they’re just like having a conversation while they’re tied to the stakes. And it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read in my life. I think this version of this play is better. Bryna ultimately knew what the play was and we came back to this with with rewrites, but there was something about exploring that epicness that felt necessary. And once it was let go of, that is when the ancient mariner came into the play. So that piece of what you’re talking about, I think ultimately that it was kind of the soul of what those bigger versions were about, because there needed to be some kind of epic storytelling in this play that was involved in kind of Carlo’s tectonic shift in perspective that happens in the play in regards to her own grief and judgment and heartbreak.
Turner: And it is epic.
Ennis: Well, you managed to write an entire play about lesbians without a U-Haul joke. That’s the most amazing part for me.
Worsham: I know! There used to be a reference, but it’s gone.
Turner: We had a Subaru joke that lost its way, too.
Ennis: What will straight people get out of this show? What will they see that maybe they don’t realize?
Turner: I think they’re going to see themselves, even in this story. And I think they’re going to be surprised, but I’m not surprised by that. I do think that heartbreak is universal, and that for a lot of people, they’re genuinely surprised when they walk out of the theater and they’re like, “That’s exactly how I felt.” I think that’s beautiful, what’s that phrase? The shoe is on the other foot. For one, it’s not us looking in and trying to imagine ourselves, it’s the other way around. And I think it’s important.
Worsham: And kind of a radical thing, you know, to turn it around in that way, I mean, I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t have any lesbian romcoms I could watch growing up, or queer or trans romcoms, where you felt you could see versions of your story and your future, romantically, that weren’t necessarily plagued by tragedy. While those stories are obviously important and true historically, I think real progress is about us getting to inhabit multiple stories, not just the tragic ones. And I think you see that all over this play. I think it’s a romcom in its style and its heart. It’s also obviously, deeper than that as well. But I think just the fact that nobody dies and that it’s an investigation of of grief and heartbreak and addiction and institutions in our lives that are now “inclusive” of the queer community, but not completely, because it’s complicated. That’s enough, and the most complicated parts of these people have nothing to do with whether or not they’re a lesbian or whether or not they’re trans, right? Those are just aspects of who they are, and they’re not the deeper elements explored in Bryna’s writing.
Turner: I think it’s a beautiful show that we’ve made, and I think that it’s also a story that people are really connecting with. I think it’s partly this moment that we’re all a little hungry for community. We’re all a little hungry for joy. Like, damn! You get to be in a room and to laugh, like it just feels really good.
Click here to read the review in The New York Times. More information about the show is here and for ticket information, click here. At the Wedding runs 70 minutes and performances are scheduled through April 24, 2022.