Weddings can put couples through the wringer. A few years ago, while planning our wedding, my future wife and I found ourselves in a morass of decisions and details. Anxious for authoritative guidance through one particular maze, we wrote to Miss Manners.
She never responded in her column--and we couldn't find the relevant information in her book, "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior."
Now, in the new age of home video, couples have another option. Miss Manners has released a video, "Miss Manners on Weddings." It may not answer a couple's every question, and Miss Manners readers will already be familiar with most of the advice that's in it. But it presents that advice in its most entertaining package yet.
This video is not just a guide to manners; it's also a comedy of manners, funnier than most of what passes as comedy on stage or screen. It enables wedding planners to get their bearings about the task at hand, but it also instructs them to approach that task with a tolerant understanding that there are no "perfect" weddings, just as there are no "perfect" people.
Using actors from Arena Stage in Washington, Miss Manners (Judith Martin) introduces us to Samantha Hope Applegum and her intended, Dirk Dearborn. Beginning with the marriage proposal, we observe a series of scenes in which the wedding is planned--by the couple, their family and friends--and one scene in which a pair of gauche guests copes with the invitation.
Throughout, when Miss Manners disapproves of what's said, she materializes in a corner of the room and proceeds to set everyone straight, firmly but ever so politely. Finally, during scenes of the wedding and the reception, she provides color commentary.
Samantha and Dirk are beset by an array of problems. They disagree between themselves on the desired size and style of the wedding. Their relatives and quasi-relatives (such as Grandpa's latest flame, the nubile young Candy) each want a piece of the action--if not the cost. Thoughtless folk either don't respond to the invitations or respond with requests to bring along their own guests.
Then there is the parade of wedding merchandisers, trying to sell the victims such essentials as "baby's breath for the limousine door." All of these hucksters are portrayed, in different costumes, by the gifted Richard Bauer. He also plays an excessively pre-programmed wedding photographer.
In the face of such vulgarity, Miss Manners is a beacon of sense and sensibility. Perhaps she's a bit rigid about the color of the wedding correspondence. But she's open to such relatively new ideas as coed showers and women who keep their surnames. Her rules reflect not only tradition but also the most humane way of balancing everyone's conflicting priorities.
"Miss Manners on Weddings" would be a fine gift, but timing is crucial. Even though Miss Manners covers the subject of proposals, it would be rude to give this tape to a couple before they've popped the question to each other. On the other hand, if it's opened when the other gifts are, it will be much too late. Instead, send it over as soon as you hear the news of the impending nuptials.
And don't worry if it isn't quite encyclopedic. I don't believe it answers the question we posed to Miss Manners before our wedding, but I'm not sure, because we can't remember what the question was. All we remember is this: At the time, it seemed very important.
It's available from Kartes (317) 844-7403, $19.95.