Earl Lewin’s “Hitched” at Church Hill – Spy Review by Peter Heck

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Let the Party Begin! The cast of playwright Earl Lewin’s “Hitched” – Front row – Amy Moredock, Howard Mesick, Jane Jewell, Christine Kinlock, Chris, Rogers, Back row – Charles Moore, Peggy Chiras, Steve Hazzard  — Photo by Peter Heck

Funny things happen at weddings. Everybody who’s been to a few has their share of stories to tell. With family members getting together – sometimes for the first time in years – and a gang of strangers suddenly becoming part of the family, people may react oddly. They also retell family stories, recall fond memories, and all too often rekindle old grudges. Add a few drinks and a sometimes forced party atmosphere, and who knows what might happen?

Playwright Earl Lewin has taken some of those moments – many of them based on events in his own family – and woven them together in his new play, Hitched, opening this weekend at Church Hill Theatre.

Playwright/director Earl Lewin rehearsing “Hitched”  – Photo by Jane Jewell

Local theater-goers know Lewin’s work well. He’s written and produced quite a few local plays, many of them light mysteries with a comic feel. More recently, he’s focused on family dramas, such as St. George’s Blues, set in a bar and blues club just a few miles up the road, and last year’s Orlando Rising, a tense drama focused on events around the Kennedy assassination. With Hitched, his comic side is again on display but in the context of delicate family issues.

The central plot point revolves around Bruce, a gay college professor who’s decided to come out to his mother – the only family member who hasn’t figured it out already – at the wedding. His partner Spike, a New York lawyer, has come with him to his family home in Arizona, meeting the family for the first time. In addition to Millie, Bruce’s mother, the family includes his divorced father Spencer, who’s spent the time since the breakup as a missionary in third-world countries; his free-spirited uncle Harry, who’s brought his much-younger most recent wife; his aunt Rhoda, who tells it like it is, no matter who might take offense; and Harry’s sophisticated cousin Brenda, who lives in New York. With the mix of generations and disparate lifestyles, most of them staying in the same house, the stage is set for wild misunderstandings and sometimes wilder shenanigans.

Out in the desert, the family group meets up with a mysterious stranger. — Photo by Jane Jewell

Add to the plot a side trip to a tourist trap out in the Arizona desert, with unexpected complications. And to complete the hilarity, the only available date for the wedding reception hall is Halloween! But it’s not all laughs. There are more serious themes, in addition to Bruce trying to come out to his loving but clueless mother – both Spencer and Harry are facing health issues that have implications beyond the immediate events of the plot.  The comic scenes make a nice balance with the more serious moments.

Bruce (Howard Mesick) and his partner Spike (Charles Moore) find themselves stuck in the middle of family dramas in “Hitched” by Earl Lewin at Chruch Hill Theatre. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Lewin, who directs his own play, has assembled a cast of excellent players from the local community. Howard Mesick takes the role of Bruce, the gay son.  Mesick, who is frequently cast in character roles–often as the comic or the villain–shows another facet of his acting ability here as he brings depth and sensitivity to the role of a serious, intellectual young man who just wants to be open with his mother about his lifestyle.

Peggy Dixon Chiras plays Millie, Bruce’s mother. Chiras has been in numerous other plays, most recently Lewin’s St. George’s Blues at Church Hill Theatre. She does a fine job portraying the sweet but clueless character – a winning performance.

Steve Hazzard is cast as Harry, Millie’s happy-go-lucky brother. Hazzard also was one of the leads in St. George’s Blues.  Hazzard does a great job of conveying the character’s cheerful outlook on life, as well as his more complex side as he gives sage advice to his nephew Bruce all the while struggling with his own problems.

Chris Rogers, who has numerous credits with Shore Shakespeare and Church Hill Theatre, plays Millie’s ex-husband Spencer, who is Bruce’s father. A former airline pilot who has spent the last several years as a missionary teacher in third-world countries, he finds it difficult to see Bruce’s homosexuality as anything but a sin. Rogers takes a difficult character and finds his sympathetic side – an excellent job.

Aunt Rhoda complains – yet again. (Jane Jewell, Chris Rogers, Peggy Chiras) – Photo by Steve Atkinson

Jane Jewell, who has filled several memorable comic roles at both CHT and the Garfield, gets a juicy character part as Rhoda, Bruce’s outspoken aunt. While something of a curmudgeon, Rhoda turns out to have a surprising fun side – which Jewell brings out in fine style.

Harry’s young wife Penny is played by Christine Kinlock, familiar from both CHT and Shore Shakespeare.  Kinlock brings out both the character’s tough side as well as her tender side as Penny has to walk a difficult line at the wedding where she has to be gracious while the first wife dances with Harry and the snobbish bride blatantly ignores her. A fine job.

Spike blows a kiss to Aunt Rhoda. (Amy Moredock, Charles Moore, and Howard Mesick) in “Hitched” by Earl Lewin at Church Hill Theatre — Photo by Steve Atkinson

Charles Michael Moore takes the role of Spike. Bruce’s partner. Slightly more self-confident than Bruce, he has a nice stock of sarcastic quips – which Moore gives a sharp yet cheerful edge.  Spike is adamant that Bruce tell his mother but he is also understanding that won’t be easy–especially in this family!  “Tell her in the desert. No one will hear her scream,” he says half seriously.  Moore brings definite panache to the character, making Spike both believable and sympathetic.

Cousin Brenda, the New York sophisticate, is played by Amy Moredock, one of the regulars in BC productions.  Brenda is perhaps the most easy-going and open-minded one in the family.  She is clearly at ease with both Aunt Rhoda and Spike; she likes and gets along with both of Harry’s wives.  Moredock brings warmth and vitality to the role.

Michele Christopher gives an excellent portrayal of Linda, Harry’s first wife and the mother of his son, Jim.   Linda put up with Harry’s drinking and partying for years before finally divorcing him.  Now at the wedding, she is in the awkward situation of being in the same room with her ex-husband and his young new wife, the latest in a string of successors.   Linda maintains her poise while delivering verbal zingers.  A good job.  Christopher is more frequently behind the scenes as a stage manager.  Hopefully, we’ll see her more often on stage in an acting role.

Tom Dorman, another BC regular, plays Grimm, who meets family members during their desert excursion. The character is at the same time folksy and slightly menacing, and Dorman makes the juxtaposition work nicely, especially as he pointedly discusses the dangers of being alone in the desert along with vegetarianism and the importance of meat in a healthy diet.

Cast in cameo roles are Eddie Dorman (a cab driver), Troy Strootman (the groom), and Maya McGrory (the bride). Dorman is the image of the impatient, luggage-laden taxi driver. McGrory is bride-beautiful in her white wedding gown and Strootman is convincing as the indignant bridegroom.

At the wedding “Hitched” (Steve Hazzard, Christine Kinlock, Amy Moredock) Photo by Peter Heck

Hitched runs the emotional gamut, from poignant revelations to hilarious comedy.   The desert scene and the wedding banquet scene are especially funny, providing contrast and comic relief to the more serious moments as the family members struggle with jealousy, denial, taboos, and the eternal questions of life, love and the inevitability of death.

Peggy Chiris as Millie and Chris Rogers as Spencer in “Hitched” at Church Hill Theatre — Photo by Jane Jewell

The script benefits from the fine cast of actors, each of whom brings their character to life onstage — many of us will recognize the prototypes of these characters among our own friends and family. It seems every family has an Uncle Harry and an Aunt Rhoda. Some of the themes and language may not be appropriate for very y0ung audiences, but everyone else will find something that hits their funny bone — or leads to reflection. Hitched will be playing through Oct. 7. Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For information, call the theater office at 410-556 6003. All tickets are $15 (cash or check only) and may be picked up at the box office prior to performances. Reservations are suggested.

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