Comedian and playwright Lewis Black’s play “One Slight Hitch,” Theatre Knoxville Downtown’s new play that’s inaugurating its new digs on the south end of Central Street, doesn’t even show up in Black’s Wikipedia profile. His many appearances on television’s “The Daily Show” do.
According to a 2015 interview posted on Black’s own website, the play has been around now for 38 years but has only recently really come to light. Set in 1981, the year it was written, “Hitch” centers on a family drama with a late-revealed aspect that reflects the life of this play. Sorry! It would spoil the play if I told you now. You will have to see it to find out.
It’s 11 a.m. on the wedding day of the oldest Coleman daughter, Courtney (Rebecca Gomez). But it’s her mother, Delia Coleman (excellent Mary Sue Greiner), who is stressed out. Her dad, Doc Coleman (Craig Smith), would rather be out playing golf, but he doesn’t dare leave the house.
Youngest daughter P.B. (Carys Millinax) is taking it all in stride, at least what she can hear around her Walkman earplugs. Middle daughter Melanie (Summer Awad), a nurse, is just too cool to take any of it seriously when she gets home from work. She contributes to the chaos that develops more than helping solve it.
Courtney, an aspiring writer, is marrying Harper (Matt Lyscas), a psychology student and stereotypical preppy. One isn’t sure if he is a really smart geek or just a wuss with good manners and socially conscious upper-middle-class parents, who arrive (offstage) for the wedding but are never seen.
The most obvious “slight hitch” in this play, with a double-entendre title, is the unexpected arrival of Ryan (Dennis Hart), a slob and Courtney’s ex-boyfriend. Doc answers the door and quickly tries to push Ryan back out but ends up hiding him in the first-floor bathroom. Ryan appears and disappears behind doors throughout the play.
The second “hitch” happens at the end.
Of course, the usual family backyard wedding’s series of mishaps drives Delia crazy. First, it’s the caterer and the food. Then it’s the flowers. Then it’s the third and fourth of two possibly disastrous shocks.
Greiner’s Delia is superb, with her in-control/out-of-control character swings, which she plays for both heightened drama and comic effect. Hers is the standout performance of the show. Hart’s Ryan is close behind. But mostly all he has to do is stick out his belly from an untied bathrobe and scratch his unshaven face, visual clues that he hasn’t yet “found himself.”
Ryan is supposedly just passing through on his cross-country journey to write his own version of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” One suspects it’s his desire to reconnect to Courtney’s life goals if he can’t actually reconnect with her.
Smith’s Doc seems mildly sympathetic to his wife’s anxiety in a slightly disinterested way, as many husbands can be. The three sisters have their own internal plots going on, but from the back row I could barely hear their conversations, so I’m not sure what they were. The people sitting in the first three rows obviously thought the young women were funny.
Lyscas’ Harper fits his role dead-on, but he doesn’t have to do much to get there in his brief scenes except be clueless and keep his sweater around his shoulders.
Theatre Knoxville’s new house seats more than twice what their old house did, which means actors performing there will have to learn better voice projection – the only flaw in Windie Wilson’s mostly effective direction.
The seating is better, too. The upholstered former church pews are more comfortable, and there are now restrooms accessible at the back of the house, instead of having to wait until breaks in the play to go around backstage.
“One Slight Hitch” runs through April 21. The theater occupies a former block-building church at 800 S. Central St. For tickets and other information, especially about helping fund their new home, check the website.