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Getting Away From It All

Two shows argue in favor of leaving it all behind.

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Two shows argue in favor of leaving it all behind. Summer weddings and vacations translate to the stage in two current productions. One is an escape from monotony, and the other is an escape from reality.

"There Goes the Bride" at Swift Creek Mill Theatre is the latter, taking us to the altar where we're left with the uncertainty of a groom waiting for a tardy bride. Uncertain it is, but not necessarily in the right ways. Veteran playwright Ray Cooney and John Chapman started out writing a light comedy about modern family relationships but apparently got bored with it. So, through a plot device more suitable for the soaps, the play ends abruptly without substantially resolving the main conflicts.

The first act sets up the audience with some good gags and solid hurdles for the characters to overcome as Judy Westerby's (Christine Schneider's) dreams of a flawless wedding begin to rip at the seams. Daughter of workaholic advertising executive Timothy Westerby and his wife, Ursula (real-life husband and wife Richard Koch and Vicki McLeod), Judy faces her parents' disapproval of a large church wedding after they learn of her indulgence in premarital sex with the groom -- a concept that must have been dated when the play was written in 1974 and sure seems out of place now. This proves to be the least of her problems when her father gets bonked on the head and fantasizes that his latest ad campaign comes to life in the form of a perky flapper (Audra Honaker), a waking dream only he can see.

The second act adds complications to the pending nuptials but fails to tie them up. Chapman and Cooney seem to decide they've had enough of the confusion and allow the plot to fall off a balcony, along with Timothy, furthering his delusions. The play never resolves the premarital sex or, indeed, if the marriage will take place at all. Amidst this chaos of bad accents and good lighting, the production never manages to find the focus of the farce.A,ΓΏ

Maybe it's because Honaker is unconnected to this messy reality that she dominates the production, dancing the Charleston around the stage in bouncy blissful innocence as the rest of us try to keep up.

"Shirley Valentine"
Barksdale Theatre's "Shirley Valentine," at Hanover Tavern, also inspires thoughts of escape. Jill Bari Steinberg is very good in this one-woman show -- maybe too good. Steinberg's characterization of Shirley, a middle-aged British housewife bedraggled by life, is so acute it runs the risk of nearly being drab at first. Funny lines get a bit lost in Shirley's sad monotone, but director Amy Berlin's decision to downplay the character nicely sets up the metamorphosis to come. Shirley decides to escape her dreary life to spend a holiday in Greece, and so begins the transformation that leads to her adventures in the second act.

The beauty of this play is in the message that new challenges are necessary in our lives to keep us vital. Shirley sums up the key to her transformation: "I'd fallen in love with the idea of living." And Steinberg convincingly takes us from middle-class life to a Mediterranean swim with a stranger, though she's too polished herself to completely pull off the scrappiness necessary in the role -- her voice a little too rich for the unsophisticated Shirley. Still, the play is an adventure worth taking. S

"There Goes the Bride," at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, runs through Aug. 23. Tickets are $31.50-$41.50. Call 748-5203 or visit www.swiftcreekmill.com.
"Shirley Valentine" at Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern runs through Aug. 24. Tickets are $35-$38. Call 282-2620 or visit www.barksdalerichmond.org.

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