Tasty Trifle

A self-absorbed has-been and his wife provide laughs on the day of 'Barbra's Wedding'

Jerry and Molly Schiff feel like the unluckiest people in the world. They're people who hate people who are overrunning their Malibu neighborhood on this fine July day en route to the wedding of Barbra Streisand and James Brolin.

Actually, it's Jerry who's angry and resentful. Molly is merely annoyed by the noise. (News helicopters! Limos disgorging celebrities! Maury Povich in ugly shorts on the front lawn!) Jerry, on the other hand, sees this as a personal affront. He and Molly live right next door to Babs, and they haven't been invited to the wedding. True, their little house can't compare to the Streisand estate, to say nothing of the bungalow on the other side to which Drew Barrymore is adding turrets. No, their house is so modest that they've been reduced to living on the set of last year's Invisible Theatre production of Cookin' With Gus.

Oh, did I mention that this is a play by Daniel Stern, called Barbra's Wedding? That it's the latest offering from Invisible Theatre? That it's a moderately funny account of a marriage that looks to be skidding into a loud divorce on the very day that Barbra is celebrating her nuptials?

Jerry's problem is that the wedding next door, and the lack of invitation to same, reminds this out-of-work TV actor that he is not merely a noncelebrity; he's a has-been noncelebrity. The sitcom of which he was the fourth-billed star was canceled years ago, and he has settled into a humiliating afterlife on the Nostalgia Channel. Jerry isn't finding acting projects anymore, so he's about to begin filling in at his father's concrete business. Going to work for daddy is the ultimate professional humiliation, but staying home isn't doing him any good, either. He's finally becoming conscious of the futility of his little routines. "Every time I run," he complains, "I end up here."

So now here's Jerry railing at the choppers buzzing his house, but not making a public fuss, because he doesn't want to blow his chance of future work by looking like a jerk on the national news. Jerry is delusional enough to believe that the crews would pay any attention to him at all; he actually thinks they were timing him when he went out for his morning run.

Molly, meanwhile, is trying to make the best of things, cooking a barely pronounceable fish pie called coulibiac for lunch. Like the rest of the day, the coulibiac is not turning out well. Things get so bad that Molly would walk out on Jerry, if Arnold Schwarzenegger's Humvee weren't blocking their driveway.

Playwright Daniel Stern is best known as a character actor, from his roles in Breaking Away, Home Alone, The Wonder Years and several movies best left unmentioned. His screwball look at love and marriage within spitting distance of the glitterati isn't exactly original, and in its early sequences, it's more likely to generate smiles than laughs. But Stern does create a nice arc out of a smoothly integrated stream-of-consciousness rant about celebrity and marriage and professional failure. You'll know your 75 minutes will have been well-spent when you reach Jerry's monologue likening actors to bowling pins; it's simultaneously funny and pathetic, and Stern seems to have been inspired by Albert Brooks at his best.

As Jerry, Dwayne Palmer seems to have been inspired now and then by Stern's screen persona; maybe he has no choice, for Stern can't help writing in his own voice. Even so, Palmer doesn't resort to mere mimicry; he plays Jerry smarter and a little unintentionally meaner than I imagine Stern would. Palmer does a neat trick of making us sympathize a bit with Jerry by showing that he's just too self-absorbed to realize that he's an asshole.

Jerry is mostly bluster; the emotional heart of this play is Molly, played by the expert Maedell Dixon as an exasperated romantic, a woman just on the verge of becoming an ex-romantic but reluctant to adopt her husband's simmering resentment.

Director Gail Fitzhugh moves the action at a nice, brisk pace, and keeps the actors honest with their characters, avoiding, as much as possible, sitcom shorthand. Barbra's Wedding may have no more depth than Molly's fallen fish soufflé, but it's certainly tastier.

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