Stage comedies populated entirely by Southern women began a generation ago with Jack Heifner’s Vanities. Before it was over, two of those girls turned on a third one and made her life miserable. Well, nothing so ugly as that happens in the gagfest Always a Bridesmaid, now at the Baldwinsville Theatre Guild.
In the next decade Robert Harling expanded the female cast in Steel Magnolias to include decided differences in age and social class but still drenching the scene in laughter. That time one of the characters dies in childbirth, cutting off the fun with tears. We won’t have any of such pain in the Jones Hope Wooten Always a Bridesmaid, where all the characters are still hugging and kissing one another at the end, even though seven years have passed.
If you count yourself a serious playgoer and have never heard of Jones Hope Wooten, which is how the name is identified on the program, this is your opportunity to catch up. It’s not one person but a trio, one woman and two guys, that sometimes goes under the nickname “JoHoWo.”
Ms. Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten were all born and raised in former Confederate states but worked widely in media before settling into their wildly successful collaboration. Wooten was for a while a writer for TV’s “The Golden Girls,” whose “girls” average about 20 years older than the ones in Always a Bridesmaid.
All four scenes take place in the tasteful upstairs sitting room of the historic Laurelton Oaks, 20 miles northwest of Richmond, Va. Even though one of the girls worries that her Harley tattoo might show through her garment, all of them are more likely to play golf than know the location of the nearest trailer park. Action centers around four characters who long ago agreed to serve as bridesmaids for each other’s weddings, even after decades pass and one bride trades in her groom for a replacement.
The quartet would not be easier to keep straight if they wore lapel badges. Sweet-tempered Libby Ruth (Aileen Kenneson), first seen in curlers, is a devoted, faithful wife who quotes her husband’s put-downs: “Preston says I sing like a herd of cats fighting over a bagpipe.” Androgynously named Charlie (JoAnn Wixson) wears Birkenstock sandals with a toe-ring and is, ahem, unmarried. Dismissed as a “tree-hugger,” she is by red state standards edgy and irritable.
Tall, glamorous Deedra (Joleene Moody) holds the rank of judge in the local judiciary, although her sense of dignity may be fleeting. She’s partially an outsider as she migrated from Connecticut, not that anybody holds it against her.
Never to be ignored is big-haired Monette (Janet Carrington), whose second marriage is the focus of the first scene. The owner of a performance hall in Nashville, Monette is an unrestrained show-business gal who grabs the most outrageous lines in the first two scenes. Her ebullience drives much of the first half of the play, and she can never be upstaged. She says, “I want men to love me for what I pretend to be.”
A mother and daughter support the foursome. Boss-lady Sedalia (Robin Bridenbaker), the tallest member of the cast, is the wedding planner at Laurelton Oaks. Maybe 10 years older than the others, she is supposed to make sure goals and deadlines are met. A would-be authoritarian, she carries a large ax in one scene.
Clad in a bridal gown and appearing before the curtain and between scenes is Kari Ames (Kitty Doupe). Director Jon J. Barden allows Kari Ames some of the best laughs, even with potential groaners, as she is the most understated. The other five keep the volume at vintage sitcom levels. Some of the show’s best moments are visual, such as the running joke on bridesmaids’ dresses, supplied by costumer Anne Grey.
There are about 15 extant JoHoWo comedies, not one of which opened on Broadway or off-Broadway. Their market has been community, dinner and regional theaters, not unlike the less successful Jim Stowell-Suzann Minnesota-based Church Basement Ladies franchise. At present JoHoWo has racked up 3,500 productions (not just performances) in the United States and more than 20,000 worldwide. Always a Bridesmaid is the first JoHoWo production in Central New York. It will not be the last.
Baldwinsville Theatre Guild’s production of Always a Bridesmaid concludes with performances on Friday, June 5, and Saturday, June 6, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 7, 3 p.m., at the First Presbyterian Church Education Center, 64 Oswego St., Baldwinsville. Call 877-8465 for information.