Jeremy Mahr may be our area's most effortlessly relaxed performer. There isn't even a trace of actor's phoniness in his line readings or physicality; there's so little artifice in Mahr's portrayals that he can easily fool you into thinking he's not acting at all. Mahr has a beautiful hangdog expression - he looks as if he's endured continual disappointment, and is prepared to endure more - and his focus is concentrated and imploring. Yet when he smiles, the warmth that exudes from him is a little overpowering; he acts like a man embarrassed to be receiving the happiness he deserves. Mahr is a supremely empathetic performer - I've now seen him in three productions since August, and for the life of me, I can't figure out how he manages to do so much while appearing to do so little.
As the flummoxed, working-class father in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's gently hilarious Over the Tavern, Mahr was outwardly gruff and touchingly boyish - a teddy bear in the guise of a grizzly bear. In the Prenzie Players production of A Midsummer Night's Dream this spring, he played Lysander with heartfelt emotion and comic panache. Now, in Richmond Hill's presentation of Robin Hawdon's Perfect Wedding, Mahr finds himself in a center of a zany romantic farce, and damn it if he isn't completely engaging - and, more astonishingly, human - in this show, too.
Hawdon's comedy (during its inspired first act, at least) is one of those bedroom-door-slamming contraptions that requires that its physical shtick and the actors' banter be performed with hairbreadth timing, and, playing a bridegroom who mistakenly finds himself in bed with another woman (Mackenzie Kerr) on his wedding morning, Mahr pulls off both the shtick and the banter with the requisite gusto. But what's completely unexpected about his performance - even if you've admired Mahr's work in the past - is how much you find yourself caring about his overwrought groom-to-be.
Mahr delivers punchlines with spectacular assurance, but it's his goofy throwaway moments that really get you: the way he nervously pats the shoulders of his fiancée (Dawn Rapp) when scheming his way out of trouble; his faux nonchalance while adjusting the bow tie of his exasperated best man (Chris White). These human details - and there are many more of them - cut through the playwright's glibness and, combined with the perfect sincerity of Mahr's expressions, give the escalating madness some context. In Perfect Wedding, Mahr has turned a farcically synthetic character into a marvelously complicated and believable one. That's more than inspired. That's heroic.
As fellow schemers, White and Cara DeMarlie (playing an understandably confused housekeeper) aren't as multi-dimensional, but are so freaking funny you couldn't care less. White, trading wisecracks with Mahr, spits out his punchlines with devastating precision and jovial confidence - one of his particularly energetic rants received, and deserved, opening-night applause - and DeMarlie is a thoroughly charming scene-stealer; you could ignore the rest of the show and easily get your fill of laughs from her disbelieving reactions alone. (With her low, dry voice and a comic deadpan to match, she's a bit reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson.)
Despite going off the rails in Act II, when a maudlin sentimentality creeps in and the expected happy endings feel tacked-on - as if Hawdon felt the need to wrap up the show post-haste - Perfect Wedding is a most enjoyable concoction (the first act's comedic intricacies grow increasingly, deliriously amusing), and Richmond Hill's production is even better than the script itself.
Director Greg Cripple displays true flair for the genre's conventions - the timing of the wordplay and visual gags is impressively polished - and the set, co-designed by Cripple and Angela Rathman, is cleverly constructed for the Barn's theatre-in-the-round seating.
Perfect Wedding is a terrific entertainment - the best time I've had at Richmond Hill since Over the Tavern - and it's blessed with a rather extraordinary leading actor. Performers are occasionally said to possess a light touch, or a sure touch; I'm beginning to think that Jeremy Mahr has a Midas touch.
For tickets, call (309)944-2244.