“It's a little bit of a drunk lesbian at a wedding trying to process her feelings about her ex.” That’s director Jenna Worsham’s elevator pitch for Byrna Turner’s new comedy At the Wedding, which opens March 21 Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3's Claire Tow Theater, starring Mary Wiseman (Star Trek: Discovery).
“I think if you say that most people would see how that could potentially be a comedy, but the majority of the queer women who I’ve said that to have been like ‘Oh my God, are you sure that’s a comedy?’”
And that joke is exactly the kind of comedy that Turner leans into with At the Wedding. “I think of the play as particularly queer. A lot of the humor is something that is deeply felt and understood by the queer community,” says Worsham. Speaking of her own lesbian friend group, which Turner is also a part of, Worsham explains her brand of queer comedy, “We laugh about the way some stereotypes are real…for example, it’s kind of hilarious that the majority of my lesbian friends are all mountain bikers, and quite a few of them have Subarus, and we all really do like granola. And we do think we are the Olympic athletes of processing our feelings.”
“There is a specific humor that queer women walk around with and own that I’ve never quite seen on stage this way.”
At the Wedding centers on Carlo (that’s the drunk lesbian) attending the wedding of her ex-girlfriend, who is marrying a man. The play opens with Carlo expounding on the profound loneliness brought on by agonizing heartbreak in a monologue delivered…at the kids’ table.
But while Carlo is doing some gold-medal-worthy-feelings-processing with several different wedding guests, the quippy dialogue keeps the audience firmly rooted in comedy. At times, the play even seems to sneak into rom-com territory.
“There’s something beautiful about leaning into the most human elements of any story,” says Turner. “This is a very specific story about someone experiencing heartbreak, which is something that most people experience in their lives.”
“I write mostly about queer people, usually queer women,” says Turner, “but there’s something about making them fully human and giving them the room to have these experiences. I get straight men coming up to me and being like ‘I don’t think this is a queer play; I relate to it.’ But I feel like this is a queer play and you can relate to it. Both can be true.”
“People have this assumption that your stories [as a queer writer] are going to be issues plays, but I’ve really just had so much fun writing the plays that I want to see,” says Turner.
Worsham agrees. “I think what struck me as radical the first time I read it was that there are so few narratives out there that give this kind of representation to the community, and I would say to the lesbian community specifically within the queer community. I think about growing up and coming out, and I’m like ‘how many lesbian rom-coms were there?’ There were some obscure lesbian stories and films and things that I found, but usually people die. Not that it's not important to capture that experience—it's very important—but I remember being deeply moved the first time I read this play…I was so moved by the fact that it could just be a rom-com."
So, like a rom-com, does the audience get a happy ending?
Towards the end of the play, At the Wedding references Samuel Taylor Colderidge’s epic poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” (which also takes place outside a wedding), which in simplest terms is about a sailor who shoots an albatross and is cursed to wear that albatross around his neck until he has paid for his crime by truly seeing his transgression.
Carlo’s journey is one of despair to hope. “Choices have consequences. And when you've been alone for so long the process of re-entering society requires a certain amount of patience in oneself. I'm not talking about loving oneself, I think that's a longer journey, but the idea of allowing that slight shift in perspective to say ‘oh, I may have been wrong.’ I do think that's something that could happen in a single night. I believe that that shift happens in Carlo, and however small, you know it has epic ramifications. I think it will in her life.”
“I do think of that as a happy ending,” says Turner. “Yeah. I do.”