Image: From left, Alfredo Antillon, Han Van Sciver, Catia, and Gunnar Manchester in The Late Wedding. Photo by Mark Turek.

Upon learning that she would direct the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA Program’s first public in-person performance since March 2020, fourth-year directing student Aileen Wen McGroddy knew her thesis show should help prove the need for live theater after a year and a half of streaming and Zoom calls. 

Enter The Late Wedding, a play Aileen describes as “uniquely theatrical.” 

Written by Obie Award-winning playwright Christopher Chen and based on the writings of postmodern author Italo Calvino, the show introduces the audience to the marriage customs of fantastical tribes before shifting genres and settings multiple times. What connects all of the play’s vignettes are the themes of the foundations of romantic partnerships – and how those partnerships can crumble.  

“My goal always is to continually make the case that it’s a really valid, valuable, and exciting thing to go see a play,” Aileen said. “And I think that this play makes that case in offering an exciting journey for its audience, visually and textually. It is funny, and it is tender, and the images in front of you will blow your socks off. I think that it’ll be a good time that gives an audience a lot to chew on.” 

Although Aileen recognized the show’s potential upon first reading the script, she initially did not consider directing it because she didn’t feel a personal connection with the show’s themes. That all changed after she went through a breakup. Then, her own experience began to resonate with the play’s ideas regarding relationships. 

“This play has a bit of a broken heart,” Aileen explained. “It’s a fun theatrical journey, but it is also asking serious questions about ‘What is this thing that we do as people where we decide that I’m going to invest my life in this other person? What does it mean to partner up with somebody in life, and what happens when it falls apart?” 

To express these themes, and the script’s inherent theatricality, Aileen knew her direction had to emphasize “journeying.” Scenic designer Tatiana Kahvegian based the set on the concept of dreams vs reality. Aileen hinted that the experience allows audiences to get lots of different perspectives of what they’re looking at. We can’t spoil what exactly this looks like though – you’ll have to see the show to see what we mean! 

The costumes, designed by Camilla Dely, follow what Aileen describes as a “dream logic” in which costumes are worn by actors in places you may not expect. There may be recurring motifs in the costumes to emphasize themes, but since the show isn’t set in one stable, specific time period, there’s plenty of flexibility. 

Showing the audience different perspectives, physical and emotional, is integral to the production. As such, each of the show’s six actors play multiple roles throughout the show, all with a different perspective on relationships and love.  

“As an actor, this play is like a jungle gym,” Andrew Gombas, a fourth-year acting student and one of the show’s performers, said. “And it is fully dependent on the shared imagination of the six actors playing off of each other. It’s a really beautiful way to return to the theater because we are creating all of these totally different, but interlacing stories, but also, you can’t make this into a movie. It is aggressively theatrical, while still being legible and understandable to an audience.” 

Gunnar Manchester, another student and actor in the show, described Aileen as a playful director who allows actors to experiment in their roles. He’s excited to return to the Pell Chafee Performance Center stage for the first time since the pandemic began, and he’s especially thrilled to perform this particular play for a live audience. With The Late Wedding’s focus on interpersonal relationships, Gunnar felt this was the perfect show to return to live theater with. = 

It isn’t just the on-stage relationships, or the actor-audience relationship, that the actors felt were special. With Aileen and five of the six actors being  MFA students in their final year of the program, this will be the last time they collaborate together within the Brown/Trinity Rep program.  Gunnar and Andrew said this makes the experience bittersweet, but that The Late Wedding is the perfect show to end on. 

“Our cohort, when we graduate, will be the group of actors who’ve been in the program the longest together (due to Brown/Trinity Rep offering an additional year of study due to COVID-19),” Andrew said. “There’s something really tender about the rehearsal process this time, and the fact that this is the swan song for collaboration between us in the program, particularly with Aileen, I’m looking forward to savoring that experience, especially after COVID.”