On Theater: Toss a bouquet to ‘Bridesmaid’ at Vanguard

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If you got a big kick out of the movie “Bridesmaids,” one of the funnier flicks of the last decade, then you’ll positively lose it when you check out “Always a Bridesmaid,” a hallmark of hilarity from the professional American Coast Theater Company at Vanguard University.

Created by the efforts of three playwrights (Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and James Wooten), “Bridesmaid” is the outrageous account of four middle-aged women who maintain their vows of always being present for the wedding of one of their number.

Each has her individual quirks, which, when combined, make for some outlandish situations. There’s Libby Ruth (Susan K. Berkompas), the only one of the four who’s managed to sustain her marriage over the years, and Charlie (Vanda Eggington), who strives to avoid that walk down the aisle.


Then there’s Monette (Deborah Marley), the thrice-wed vixen who looks considerably younger than the others, and for good reason. And Deedra (Maria Cominis), a judge who dumps her philandering husband, then couples with her divorce lawyer.

Stirred to the boiling point by director Kevin Slay, the Vanguard show fires a plethora of punch lines amid brawling and bickering. It’s as though all three playwrights submitted scripts and then chose the funniest moments from each.

If you envision “Steel Magnolias,” you’re not too far off base. Except that these ladies turn even the semi-serious moments into grist for their comedic mill. There’s even a Southern setting (near Richmond, Va.). The show plays out in a sitting room above the sanctuary over a sever-year period, during which situations may change but not the furniture.

Berkompas, who heads Vanguard’s theater department and created the American Coast company, unleashes her inhibitions as the giggly, dreamy Libby Ruth, who seems to keep the others — and their tradition — together while warbling “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.” It’s a no-holds-barred romp for the actress, who has shown her serious side superbly in such company shows as “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “All My Sons.”

A delightful revelation is the wild and wacky performance of Eggington, previously known at Vanguard for directing musicals and light comedies but never acting in them. Eggington excels as Charlie, who is overly cautious in the romance department, in a portrayal that highlights her skills at broad, physical comedy.

Marley portrays the showy sexpot of the quartet. She has shaved seven years off the age on her driver’s license to justify her apparently cosmetically altered physical appearance. Her over-the-top quest to attend the wedding of one of her comrades is particularly effective.

The grim, humorless judge who takes another crack at matrimony is splendidly enacted by Cominis, who breaks out of her web of seriousness long enough to become the centerpiece of a riot downstairs at her own nuptials.

Sternly riding herd on the foursome is the statuesque Amanda Zarr, proprietor of the wedding establishment, who employs any method available — up to and including an ax — to maintain order. Super-cute Heaven Peabody, as Libby Ruth’s daughter and the latest bride, injects a champagne-fueled standup routine into the scenic transitions.

The Vanguard production of “Always a Bridesmaid” is the show’s first local appearance, but it probably won’t be its last. Community theaters seeking plays to showcase female talent may be passing on yet another mounting of “Steel Magnolias” to produce this wild and wacky comic gem.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the daily Pilot, Coastline Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent.


What: “Always a Bridesmaid”

Who: American Coast Theater Company

Where: Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through July 26

Cost: $12 to $14

Information: (714) 668-6145 or