by Nita Congress · April 21, 2015
Chip Zien, Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, Michael X. Martin | Joan Marcus
It Shoulda Been You delivers all the pleasures of a highly polished, well-done sitcom plus the sumptuous production values of a high-end Broadway show. It’s funny, fast, and friendly; a real crowd pleaser. Plus it showcases, among others, two highly formidable comic actors: Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris—both of whom can, with a slightly arched eyebrow or firmly pursed lips, convey volumes and conjure hysteria.
Is it art? Not really. Is it deep? Not at all. Is it thought provoking? Well yes, but perhaps not in any way the creative team had in mind; more on this point below.
But to judge it on its merits: is it light, fluffy, escapist fare to enjoyably while away a shade over an hour and a half? Most emphatically. Doors open and slam in synchronicity in the best farcical tradition. Misunderstandings are wickedly concocted, piled on, and then put to rights. Zingers are lobbed; quips are pitched. Impediments are overcome. Outsiders are drawn in. Enmities are forgotten and forgiven. And everyone joins hands and gleefully sings and dances us off to enjoy the rest of our day or night with a lightened heart and brightened mood.
The plot revolves around a wedding between the seemingly hapless offspring of the uber-Jewish Steinbergs and the ultra-waspy Howards. Every possible conflict that can beset a wedding—rejected suitor, domineering mother, overlooked sibling, quarrelsome in-laws, reluctant bride, nefarious inheritance provisions—is not only deflected but turned on its head, generally by the omniscient wedding planner (played by Edward Hibbert, channeling his smarty-pants Gil Chesterton persona from Frasier).
And in the process, many withering cracks are delivered; here imagine the voices, respectively, of Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, and Edward Hibbert:
“I’m not a worrier: nothing bothers me unless it’s upsetting.”
“I’d hate to miss my son’s first wedding.”
“I like to think of myself as Martha Stewart crossed with Dumbledore.”
So it’s great fun, all extremely well staged and packaged by director David Hyde Pierce.
An interesting phenomenon was discernible in the audience’s response to the material. For much of its humor, It Shoulda Been You draws on outdated stereotypes of pushy, nouveau riche Jews and condescending, heavy-drinking WASPs. These familiar clichés provide the backdrop against which the piece can play sly, postmodern switcheroos on issues of gender, race, and sexuality. But these stereotypes don’t—shouldn’t, can’t—resonate for a modern sensibility. As I puzzled over this, watching the audience laugh over foibles and quirks skewered by borscht belt comics of the fifties and sixties, I realized they were being transported to their youths—quite forgetting that they are now the same age as the yentas and bubbies they once decried. Interesting to be sure, and revealing the creative team’s shrewd understanding of the typical matinee audience. But really, isn’t there a better way to upend bourgeois thinking than to trot out these tired tropes?