Your Guide To The Arts In Atlanta

Playwright and actor Grant McGowen, left, with Alex Van. (Photo by Drake Simons)

Playwright and actor Grant McGowen, left, with Alex Van. (Photo by Drake Simons)

Heading in to see Pinch ‘n’ Ouch’s world premiere Wall Street Wedding, I had no idea what to expect. Was this a testosterone-driven tale of fallen stockbrokers? A romantic comedy set against the backdrop of Lehman Brothers’ demise?  Luckily it’s not really any of those. Instead, it’s a comedy-drama with its own quirky trajectory and sensibility.

Now running through March 1 at Pinch ‘n’ Ouch, Wedding is a world premiere production by Grant McGowen, the company’s producing artistic director who was working in New York in 2008 during the Wall Street crash as a personal trainer. Besides writing it, he’s given himself a juicy role. A speech by President Obama about the financial situation of the time opens the play. Middle-aged Phil (Alex Van) — often manic and jittery — is looking back at the crash and how it affected him as a stockbroker. Personally, he’s a mess. He has a drinking problem, is addicted to sex and has been divorced twice. And he has no idea where his child support money goes.

Phil’s longtime bud Tom (McGowen) is questioning whether their friendship has run its course and shares the news at a bar. As the night wears on, they both meet women celebrating at a bachelorette party. Becky (Bryn Striepe) is goaded on by her friends to flirt with Tom and to give him her number. There is an attraction, despite the fact that Tom is married. Later, drunken Phil runs into Becky and her vivacious sidekick Carla (Christie Vozniak).

Back home, life between Tom and his wife, Julie (Jackie Costello), seems to be strained. The two met working on Wall Street but they now seem to argue frequently.

Though the Wall Street crash is the monster looming over it all, this isn’t a serious, overly somber piece. It’s more about the characters’ reactions to a world that has changed forever — and how they navigate relationships after. As Tom is turning 30, he wonders where he is headed and if his priorities are where they need to be.

As directed by Robby Glade, the scenes with the men crackle with energy, and at times the play is quite funny. It’s also sharply written and observant. Trying to get a word in at the bar, Phil says, “I feel like I’m on the The View and everyone wants to talk and no one wants to listen.” In the character of Phil, Van has struck gold. He is a nimble actor who makes Phil one of the more magnetic characters of the season. He could walk offstage and land literally in a David Mamet production and feel at home. McGowen is a nice counterbalance, juggling career and personal decisions. He may not have the big scenes his costar has, but he’s equally as compelling.

Given that this is ostensibly a play about stockbrokers, a pleasant surprise is that the women are as complex and spirited. Striepe makes Becky a likable, though confused, young woman while Vozniak is a crack comic, whether she’s straddling a toilet or rooting for a football team. Like Van and McGowen, Striepe and Vozniak have a wonderful ease working with each other.

The major weakness here is the character of Julie. She comes across initially as a shrill, disagreeable wife — and it doesn’t help that Costello overplays her. The character later has a strange scene with Becky as they are primping before a washroom mirror. Then from out of the blue, she has a blistering, revelatory monologue that may explain more about her but nonetheless leaves her a blurry, impossible-to-read character.

The play’s structure is a little odd as well, going back and forth in time. Phil’s opening soliloquy takes place in 2009, before most of the other scenes, and it’s not really apparent outside the program notes. The irony is it proves unnecessary and a little confusing, in retrospect.

Most world premieres need a certain amount of work and some fine-tuning. Fortunately much of this feels secure and on track. Wedding may be frothier fare than the company traditionally produces, but it’s satisfying. It’s obviously a pet project for McGowen and he’s done himself proud. Overall this Wedding is a bit goofy and disarming — and the most agreeable surprise of the young theater season so far.