Take The Dixie Swim Club, add a dollop of Steel Magnolias (without the sadness), a pinch of The Golden Girls and a smidgen of Sex and the City, and you get the nicely satisfying and enjoyable Always a Bridesmaid, the 2013 comedy playing through April 30 in the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill.
It's the story of four high school girlfriends who made a vow at their dateless high school prom that no matter where, no matter when, they would all show up to stand as bridesmaids when one them got married. It's three decades later, and they're still at it, only these times for second and third marriages.
It's set in the bride's dressing area at the swanky Laurelton Oaks, somewhere in Virginia, and is told in four vignettes that have taken place through the previous seven years. The stories are framed by increasingly tipsy commentary on the calamities at weddings and the vicissitudes of marriage by young bride Kari Ames-Bissette (a radiant Nina Cupaiuolo), daughter of one of the gal pals, who is celebrating shortly after her own wedding, a neat device that allows time for the others to change costumes and an uncredited maid to update the set to show passage of time.
The four characters are distinct personalities, and rookie directors Theresa Stenger and Jay Ingle did a fine casting job, finding just the right person for each role, then coaching them to reflect what playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten had in mind when they wrote the comedy.
Elizabeth Lichty is a honey as the flamboyant Monette, her broad Southern accent and boisterous manner familiar to anyone who has spent much time in Dixie. Lichty's Monette dominates every scene she's in. But she's such a doll, her stage friends seem to enjoy it as much as the audience does. Typical Monette antic: not wearing anything under her high school graduation gown because of the heat, then fanning herself with said gown, thus flashing her classmates and the celebration's audience. Typical Monette philosophy: "Whoever said laughter is the best medicine never had a margarita." Typical Monette wedding night advice: Do anything you feel like doing, just "don't do anything you'd be embarrassed to tell the paramedics."
Sandy Mosley plays Deedra as the serious court prosecutor, then judge, her character demands, but adds warmth, understanding and, ultimately, a huge portion of lovable humanity to what appears to be a cool, detached persona.
Sharon Vetter's Libby Ruth is the steady hand and steady head for them all, as genuine as she appears to be from the start.
Jeanene MacLean is Charlie, the down-to-earth, true-to-herself landscaper who shines as an example of true independence. Charlie is self-reliant and determined to stay that way, a brave pioneer among all that Southern womanhood that clings to the idea that a woman isn't whole until she has a "better half."
Dee Curran's Sedalia, the Laurelton Oaks wedding coordinator, is the linchpin for the four stories, inserting sanity into some insane situations, prodding reluctant brides, and making sure the bills are paid on time and in full, and that goes for blood kin, too. Curran plays Sedalia as no-nonsense with a sense of humor.
The warmth and humor are enhanced by the sometimes outlandish costumes chosen by Eileen Bernard, Theresa Stenger and Cheryl Cooper. The scenes move quickly, thanks to dressers Karen Doxey and Kathy Morgan. The opulent tone is set by set designer Jay Ingle and painter Dave Stenger, who make the bride's room a Marie Antoinette fantasy.
There isn't a lot of conflict in Always a Bridesmaid, but there is a respectful look at the value of longtime friendships, loyalty and acceptance. That's a nice look any time, especially when performed with such grace and ease by a superb cast who's had smart direction.