Philly Fringe 2017: On the Rocks’ ‘The Groom’s a Fag…’

'Til death do you part

The Groom's a Fag; The Bride's a Cunt; The Best Man's a Whore; and the Maiden of Honor (Just) Hung Herself in the Closet is the epitome of Fringe Festival: loud, profane, booze-sodden, rock-fueled passion. There hasn't been an explosive Fringe company like On the Rocks since Brat Productions' glory days of shows such as Eye-95.

Campbell O'Hare's bride, who is apparently, you know... (Photo courtesy of On the Rocks.)

The Groom's . . . completes playwright Haygen-Brice Walker and director Elaina Di Monaco's Dead Teenager Trilogy, three late-night Fringe hits as outrageous as their titles [Spookfish, Birdie's Pit Stop (and the Tribe of Queers Who Fucked Everything Up)] that exceed their blood, lust, and dance aesthetic to qualify as meaningful, emotionally naked theater experiences.

Here Comes the Bride

Campbell O'Hare — Walker's high school friend and one of Philadelphia's most exciting young actors, soon starring in the Wilma's Blood Wedding — plays Nora, a frighteningly intense bridezilla marrying Daniel (Ashton Carter). As the title notes, Daniel has issues of his own. Nora is comically vicious to Daniel's sister (Iman Aaliyah), her dysfunctional bridal party, and even the wedding planner (Jenna Kurzi, channeling Phyllis Diller in a performance as wonderful — and different — as her role in Tribe of Fools’ Fishtown).

Dreamlike choreographed monologues reveal a more sympathetic Nora wrangling with torturous memories of her brother Luke, who committed suicide. She's also haunted by the Bunny (Kevan Sullivan), a masked specter. This fascinatingly complex character is the heart of the play.

Di Monaco's artful, dynamic staging (with choreography by Sullivan) in this basement space is often witty, but the story's brutal sex and violence play with realistic intensity. Julia Montante's scenic design and Jeremy T. Cohen's lighting use the space (even its three pillars) well, creating a twinkle-light wedding fantasia that contrasts ironically with the dark tale. Gina Colacci's costumes define the characters in all their trashy, low-rent glory; in the climactic wedding scene, perfect tuxes and gowns remain hanging on the plastic-covered back wall. Meanwhile, the men wear black slacks and white t-shirts and the women wear matching robes. The wedding magic remains just out of reach.

The Game of Life

Every brilliantly silly scene — like the bachelor party where the guys play the board game Life and then snort coke, rock out to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," and have an erotic slo-mo pillow fight — is balanced by dark, creepy moments. For example, backup maiden of honor Helena (Lily Cumberpatch) reveals why she's hosting the bachelorette party in an unconventional spot: the middle of the woods.

A few companies can stage loud late-night comedies filled with wild dancing, shocking sexual moments, and lots of fake blood. Many can mount dramas that probe dark, intense emotional trauma. Very few, however, can combine them in a production that's larger, grander, and deeper than the sum of its parts. These parts add up admirably in Walker's incisively raw script, the ensemble's fearless talents, the designers' daring inventiveness, and director Di Monaco's bold leadership.

Watch out. On the Rocks is just getting started. 

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