Cuteness abounds inside the Loft Theatre as the Human Race Theatre Company presents the second professional production of comedian Lewis Black’s comedy “One Slight Hitch.” The play’s Cincinnati setting is cute. The notion of a summer wedding is cute. A slacker ex-boyfriend provoking chaos is cute. A precocious teenager grooving to music on her Walkman is cute. But conceptual issues dampen this flimsy, problematic farce which transpires like an overlong “Saturday Night Live” sketch pushing hard for laughs and relying heavily on nostalgia for appeal.
Directed by Margarett Perry and written by Black roughly 35 years ago, “One Slight Hitch” brews its frenzy from the relatable vantage point of the Colemans, a close-knit suburban Republican family. On her special day, aspiring writer Courtney (Dana Berger) must choose between her just-came-into-town ex Ryan (Alex Curtis) or her super straight-laced therapist-fiancé Harper (Kyle Nunn). Courtney’s devoted, exasperated parents Doc (Brian Dykstra) and Delia (Rita Rehn) would rather her err on the side of caution (a.k.a. stability), but there’s something about bad boy Ryan that still fuels her fire. As wedding preparations reach fever pitch, and as Courtney’s sisters PB (Cecily Dowd) and Melanie (Alex Sunderhaus) attempt to make sense of the madness around them, Courtney has a life-altering epiphany that brings everything to a screeching halt.
Black, an Emmy and two-time Grammy winner who appeared on Broadway in his 2012 one-man show “Running on Empty,” knows a thing or two about sarcasm and timing having built his career on those comedic attributes. But right from the start his foundation is askew here. At the outset, the story is startlingly told from PB’s perspective as she joyfully reflects on all things 1981. Is a pop culture laundry list really necessary in the first five minutes? Also, and in addition to Black creating two oddly unfunny, momentum-stalling moments in which Doc speaks to Harper’s offstage parents, weak character development particularly hinders Doc and Delia from being anything more than an over-the-top, purely observational combination of confusion and mockery. Trouble is we’ve seen this before from the standard sitcom playbook. A husband frantically attempts to maintain peace while keeping close to the alcohol as his wife freaks out as if the world is coming to an end. And I can’t believe the consistently chipper Harper actually exits the stage twice to the sound of chirping birds. Cue laugh track!
Script quandaries aside, Perry’s energetic cast doesn’t contain any weak links, an absolute saving grace. The hilariously fussy Berger gives credence to Courtney’s frustrating dilemma. The charming, slovenly handsome Curtis conveys Ryan with an edginess suggesting his troublemaker tendencies and an endearing sensitivity proving why Courtney found him attractive in the first place. The bubbly Dowd, a Centerville High School junior who recently gave a breakthrough performance as Winifred Banks in Muse Machine’s production of “Mary Poppins,” impresses in her professional debut with a sweetly sincere and effervescent aura. Sunderhaus, a Wright State University alumna who appeared last season in the Race’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” injects sass and a tinge of sibling rivalry into her fetching portrayal. Dykstra, seen on Broadway in 2013 opposite Tom Hanks in Nora Ephron’s fascinating Tony-nominated dramedy “Lucky Guy,” effectively channels Black’s intonations and mannerisms. He also conducts the ongoing hysteria with ample vivacity despite his occasionally unrealistic gesturing. The hunky Nunn, a clean-cut, All-American epitome of an Abercrombie & Fitch model seen last season in the Race’s “Miracle on South Division Street,” delightfully contrasts Curtis, particularly shining when Harper attempts to diagnose Ryan in one of the play’s strongest and most revealing moments. Rehn, who appeared on Broadway in such musicals as “Nine” and “A Chorus Line,” relishes Delia’s madcap antics, but beautifully pauses the craziness late in Act 2 when Delia poignantly reminds her daughters of her courtship with Doc and the sacrifices they’ve made.
Ray Zupp’s attractively detailed set strikingly signifies the Colemans’ upper-class status. Janet G. Powell, having costumed “Steel Magnolias” for the Race last fall, eye-catchingly evokes the Greed Decade once more in amusing wedding garb for the ladies complete with huge bows and ruffles. John Rensel’s lighting notably spotlights Dowd in her narrative, music-centric duties. Sound designer Todd Mack Reischman (“Seussical,” “Big River”) returns to the Race to ensure the pulsating vibes of “Bette Davis Eyes” and “Jessie’s Girl” haven’t lost their allure.
In one of his many brainless retorts, Ryan proudly states, “I haven’t worked it all out but it sounds right.” His credo sums up the essence of this forgettable romp.
“One Slight Hitch” continues through April 24 in the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are 8 p.m. April 13-16 and 20-23; 2 p.m. April 17 and 24; and 7 p.m. April 12 and 19. Act One: 60 minutes; Act Two: 50 minutes. Tickets are $35-$50 for adults, $32-$46 for seniors, and $17.50-$25 for students. A “While We’re On the Subject” post-show talkback will be held following the April 17 matinee. For tickets or more information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org or ticketcenterstage.com.