WEST VALLEY CITY — Hale Centre Theatre is celebrating a wedding as it gets ready for its production of Father of the Bride, and, for a first time visitor of this beautiful theater, I couldn’t think of a better location to have it. The theater is a beautiful building, complete with a spacious lobby and impressive performance space. The little details that were geared towards the production were nice as well. I received my tickets in wedding invitation form, and the pre-show charity announcement was from the parents of the bride themselves as they talked about donations for the “registered bride.” All these amenities were pretty impressive and were trademarks that I had heard about many times in the past when discussing this theater with others. I was left hopeful for the show I was about to see. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as dazzled with the show as I was with all the pretty packaging around it.

The look of The Father of the Bride was great. Despite a few technical hiccups and a broken cockatiel sculpture (which the actors improvised around very well), the visual aspects of the show were nearly flawless. The play takes place in the Stanley Banks home as he and his wife deal with the wedding of their daughter Kay. With the exception of the hanging light fixtures that looked modern-retro enough to feel like they came from IKEA, I really did feel like I was watching a 1960’s family in their 1960’s living room. Kimberly Fitt also did a marvelous job as costumer in the production. This was her first time as a costume designer for a Hale show, and she pulled it off wonderfully. Everyone looked natural in their clothing, and I never got the sense of anything looking too “costumey.”

The acting performances were pleasing overall as well, but I felt hazy as to everyone’s intentions. While I don’t expect theatrical experiences to be handed to me on a platter, I feel that a good show is built from a recognizable foundation of knowing what the characters want and need. I don’t think the actors ignored this foundation. However, as an audience member, these choices and desires didn’t read clear enough for me to be pulled into the story. The jokes and punchlines were more visible than the characters behind them.

That’s not to say that the actors did poorly. In fact, I felt like this was more of a directorial problem than anything else, but I’ll discuss that later on. My favorite performance of the night was Jenessa Brown as Peggy. Brown played a fairly small role, but she was funny, quirky, and real all at the same time. Applauding an actor for being real may seem like a cliché, but it is easy for these smaller roles to be characterized by nothing more than one line zingers. Whenever she opened her mouth, it didn’t feel like a funny script was being spouted off, it was just a funny girl talking at awkwardly funny times. When I saw Brown’s portrayal I could get a sense of her complete character, not just what I saw on stage. Kylee Bird as Kay Banks was a charming young bride to be as well. She had a great balance between the young idealistic girl, and the married woman she was to become. The play became confusing to me when it was revealed that Kay’s breakdown was due to a problem with the wedding invitations. The invitations suddenly became a key factor to her character that didn’t seem a part of her worries before. I only became aware of that concern when others lines in the script pegged that detail onto her character, so I didn’t really buy into it as an audience member.

David Weekes and Jennifer Hohl were wonderful as Kay’s parents. Among the three of them in the family, they had a real potential for the familial chemistry that is created during a wedding, and the three actors did achieve that in some scenes. The last scene, between Kay and her father, was the most touching of the night. It was this scene that made me realize that the rest of the play could have been great if it were not impeded by the need for playing for laughs. It was sincere, heartfelt, and I felt for this father and daughter who were on the cusp of changing their roles in life.

In director John Adams‘ note in the program, he stated an intent to return to the simpler times in which this story takes place. While the sentimentality of that nostalgia was apparent, I didn’t feel like it served as a good enough reason to support why this show was important enough to produce. Good laughs and simple times are only strong when compared to trial and struggle, and this production felt unbalanced in that aspect in its overall tone. I believe it was the director and not necessarily the script that was responsible for this lack of balance. A story of father and daughter preparing for the changes that come with marriage is a universal and touching story. Adams’ interpretation just seemed too much like it was being seen through rose colored glasses in order to keep the laughs rolling.

While I feel it is far from my duties as a reviewer to suggest changes to the production, this is how I honestly felt watching this play. I encourage readers to go see the show for themselves if they feel their tastes may be different from mine. I love a good laugh, and I feel like I am a sentimental person at heart, but I always feel like those things should be grounded in real and honest choices. For me, this show had all the packaging of a great wedding, but was more fluff than actual substance—despite great actors and designers.

Father of the Bride plays at the Hale Centre Theatre (3333 South Decker Lake Drive, West Valley) Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Saturdays at 12:30 and 4:00 PM matinees.  Tickets are $15 – $26. For more information, visit www.halecentretheatre.org.

David Weekes & Kylee Bird