A night at the theater doesn't often involve a champagne toast, a fully catered Italian dinner, and dancing to live music. Of course, theatergoers don't usually find their seats located in the middle of an Italian American Catholic wedding. But Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding, which runs through the year at the Hanna Theatre, doesn't have much of what you'd expect from the average play.
One of the more difficult aspects of staging the fake wedding -- in which many of the would-be audience members are actors performing improvised characters -- fell to set designer Carey Wong, who had to transform the recently renovated Hanna into something resembling a Vinnie Black creation (Black being the wedding's fictional caterer, a tacky man who pushes his events into appalling celebrations of bad taste). Wong, who has designed sets for numerous operas and other formal projects over the years, describes his latest project as "bad taste on a big scale."
"We were taken by the architecture and the spatial possibilities of the space, so we chose a garden setting, because Vinnie has that flair," explains Wong. "His tent wedding has too much enthusiasm -- like chandeliers, Astroturf, and elaborate topiary concoctions that incorporate household objects into them. Hopefully, people will be exhilarated and appalled by the space."
And while that's not the sort of thing that you would expect to hear from a set designer, it isn't to say Wong has ruined the restored beauty of the Hanna. "We took the beautiful, elaborate architecture of the Hanna Theatre and amplified it past the tasteful limits. We created oversized gilded statuary dressed in leopardskins, holding lighted flower arrangements, and a couple of chandeliers that Vinnie would have been very proud of."
In this setting, the wedding reception careens out of control, where every imaginable disaster that can possibly happen does, to comic effect. While Tony and Tina struggle to get married, the various factions of their families tear each other to pieces with verbal jabs and critical observations.
"If you read the script, the characters seem really caustic, but the way they are performed, there is a warmth about them that makes the play really likable," says Wong. "The more you interact with the other guests, the more complex your experience will be, because the characters are so complete. Each member has an elaborate back story that will be revealed to you as you interact with them."
Thanks to this interactive quality of unearthing the families' gossip, the play has become addictive to some since it opened in New York City in 1985. People return to see it over and over again, because each experience is as riveting to an outsider as is any party full of others' bickering relations.
"When the audience sees these [sets]," assures Wong, "they will know they are in for a great party."
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