TONY N’ TINA’S WEDDING Created by Artificial Intelligence Directed by Larry Pellegrini
At Vinnie Black’s Coliseum in down-town Toronto, an Italian wedding reception is in full swing. Anthony Angelo Nunzio and Valentina Lyn Vitale—Tony and Tina to their assembled families and guests—have just tied the knot and now are about to cut their gigantic wedding cake. But Tina is more than a little high on champagne, and somehow the cake’s white icing layer ends up plastered across her face. Looking like a casualty in a snowball fight, she goes howling off to the washroom, followed by her outraged bridesmaids. The crowd can be forgiven if they roar with laughter. The scene, after all, is just one more piece of slapstick from Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, an audience-participation play that has been attracting sold-out houses in New York City, Los Angeles, and
Philadelphia—and which opened on March 7 in Toronto with a Canadian cast. Patrons pay $50 each to attend the wedding ceremony in a storefront church on the city’s downtown Queen Street West. After half an hour, everyone moves along the street to the Coliseum (in real life, a local dance-and-drinking spot called Emerson’s Bar and Grill) to eat pasta and salad, sip champagne from a plastic glass and join in the matrimonial mayhem.
First unveiled five years ago in New York by the Artificial Intelligence theatre company, Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding is one of the most successful of a new wave of so-called environmental dramas— plays that seek to involve the audience by having them move among sets and actors. Toronto has made its own contribution to the trend with such theatre pieces as Donut City, Newhouse and, most notably, Tamara, a melodrama written by local playwright John Krizanc. Tamara’s continuing success in Los Angeles and New York underlines g the appeal of its innovative I format, which has its audi¡5 enees excitedly following I the actors through the 1 rooms of a mansion. Tony n ’ Tina’s Wedding goes a step
further and makes theatregoers part of the action—at least in theory.
Patrons arriving at the Queen Street church are asked if they are with the bride’s or the groom’s family. They are then ushered to the appropriate pews, where an energetic nun, Sister Albert Maria (Laura Di Cicco), rehearses them in the singing of a hymn: “Gather round the table of the Lord/Eat his body/Drink his blood/And we’ll sing a song of love.”
In actual practice, there is a crudity about the relentless satire of the wedding ceremony that tends to alienate rather than involve. Tina (Penny Everett) is a loudmouthed, gumchewing harridan who inexplicably glares at the audience as if she were ready to strangle half of them. It is a complete mystery why the handsome Tony (David Berni) wants to marry her. The groom’s father, Tony Sr. (Angelo Celeste), is also a problem. When he kisses Tina’s mother (Samantha Anna Stevens), he also ostentatiously squeezes her buttocks—an action that takes the satire into silliness. Like so much of the play, such incidents represent a highspirited but essentially juvenile and unsubtle send-up of social customs. And behind it all lies a deep cynicism about religion and marriage.
When everyone moves down the road to the Coliseum, the action becomes more plausible, as actors and audience mingle in the din of an increasingly manic party. Vinnie Black (Bruce Bell), the self-styled “Cadillac of Caterers,” sets the tone of the evening by joking, “I catered the Ceau§escus’ last meal, and the bastards still haven’t paid me for it.” Meanwhile, family conviviality degenerates further as Tony Sr. quarrels with his girlfriend, a stripper named Madeline Monroe (Monique Foisey)—at one point gripping her ferociously by the chin. By the end of the evening, he is a staggering, pathetic drunk, while Madeline nearly causes a riot by threatening to strip on the dance floor.
There are many such scenes, occasionally amusing, more often simply bemusing. Fortunately, there are also several vignettes created by some of the supporting actors. Old, crippled Uncle Luigi (Arthur Corber) is so bent he has to be bodily lifted to the bandstand, where he temporarily takes over the keyboard to pick out a heartfelt rendition of Santa Lucia. The childlike pleasure on Corber’s face, and the stirring tune itself, create a moment of timeless, affectionate humor that should have served as a standard for the rest of the production.
The pasta in tomato sauce served by Vinnie Black—on paper plates—is all but tasteless. But the band, Donny Dulce & Fusion, pump out some highly danceable tunes in a variety of ethnic idioms—from Mexican to Israeli. And many of the actors, circulating among the crowd, do a passable job of involving people in their private dilemmas—although extensive ad-libbing seems beyond them. For die-hard party animals, Tony n Tina’s Wedding might well prove delightful. But the evening’s forced jollity may make others sorry that they ever RSVPed.
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