“Dearly Beloved,” which opened at the 2nd Space Theatre over the New Year’s weekend, is a very specific kind of play: the gently mocking rural Texas comedy. I’ve seen better and worse examples of the genre. It’s the kind of play that you know without a doubt is going to include 1) three feuding sisters; 2) a disastrous wedding; 3) a goofy cop who keeps dropping his gun; 4) a snooty future mother-in-law; and 5) a joke about a casserole.
Thankfully, a typically strong Good Company Players cast ratchets up the comic impact more than the so-so script would suggest. After a fairly weak first act, the second one hits back with some good-natured laughs.
Playwrights Jesse Jones, Nicholas Hop and Jamie Wooten — who wrote the show as part of their Futrelle Family Texas trilogy — introduce some of their characters in a series of vignettes. The bride of the day is Tina Jo Dubberly (a nicely lackadaisical Randi Martin), whom we meet briefly lolling about in the company of her “bad-girl” aunt, Honey Raye (the fiery Tessa Cavalletto, who bites into this juicy role as if she’s sucking down a pomegranate). We also meet the hard-charging wedding planner, Geneva (a hard-boiled Mary Piona), and the two other Futrelle sisters: Twink (Karan Johnson), who is desperate to get engaged to her long-time boyfriend (David P. Otero); and Frankie (Julia Reimer, playing world-weary), mother of the bride, who has a set of personal problems all her own.
That’s all pretty much prologue, however, as we fast forward to the wedding day itself, which unfolds around a potluck table stacked high with Tupperware containers stuffed with suspicious foodstuffs. Like any upstanding Texas rural comedy, there are lots of jokes poking fun at the lower socioeconomic status of the characters. Some are funny and some aren’t; your ability to derive hilarity from “Dearly Beloved” rests largely on your ability to laugh at the same hick joke told different ways.
Director Patrick Allan Tromborg, who also designed the set, does an admirable job with the middling script as he keeps the action moving. Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s costumes are nicely understated as far as this genre goes — no need to beat up on those Texans too terribly — and Paul Henry’s lights offer some emotional shading. My major concern is with Reimer’s interpretation of the role, which is so withdrawn — almost sullen — that it dampens the mood. I realize that her story arc requires a subdued presence, but at the Sunday matinee performance I watched on opening weekend, Reimer’s stage persona seemed far too stiff and dour.
I especially liked three supporting performances: Martin (doing double duty) as the repressed twin sister, Gina Jo; Andrew Cardillo as the buffoon cop; and Marc Gonzales, whom I’ve mostly seen in the ensemble at Roger Rocka’s, in an endearing comic turn as a nervous preacher-slash-UPS driver. Without mugging, all three found the eccentricities in their characters in sorta sweet ways.
And then there’s Cavalletto, who sparkles. With her character’s big-hair fiery mane and saucy saunter, she’s a key ingredient in this small-town romp. When it comes to comic timing, Don’t Mess With Tessa.