When old friends gather to witness the nuptials of a member of their group, things inevitably get a little weird. Maybe a single guest becomes so distraught over the outward displays of love that they end the night in tears, reflecting on their own solitude. Maybe people overimbibe and end up revealing their honest thoughts about the couple, their families, and other friends. Maybe recollections of the good old days end up wounding the new members of the group. In Drew Droege’s effervescent monologue Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, one man ticks all of the above boxes over the course of one evening.
We meet Gerry (an exuberant Jeff Hiller) at a Palm Springs rental house the night before his friends will exchange vows. His chaotic narration of his hours-long drive into the desert from Los Angeles leads his friends (and the audience) to suspect that something is amiss, and they’re right. Before all the self-reflection, however, comes the essential pre-wedding activity: bitching about your friend and the sacrifices you’ve made to be a part of their big day. Gerry dishes his critiques out generously, heaping particular attention on his friend’s drab in-laws and a harsh dress code that, as the title suggests, prohibits bright colors and bold patterns. The latter diatribe will resonate with anyone who’s been forced to spend hundreds of dollars to be part of a wedding party, but will never again wear the ensemble that has little use beyond enhancing the couple’s chosen color scheme.
Hiller fully inhabits Gerry and masters the subtle physical shifts that convey his relationship to the characters he addresses, but we, the audience, never see. His side-eye alone is award-worthy, and as the hour gets later and Gerry gets more inebriated, Hiller alters his movements and volume accordingly. His margarita-fueled outrage garners giggles, but his early morning reflections on commitment and romantic love force audience members to stop and think.
Like the characters in another Studio gem, 2018’s The Remains, Gerry must reckon with the possibility of marriage, a social convention he never thought would be open to him as a gay man. As his mind clears and the sun rises, the realization that this aspect of life may pass him by hits as hard as a post-wedding hangover. The subtlety is a testament to Hiller and first-time director Michael Urie, who have pulled the nuance out of a script that could have easily veered into cliches.
Do not take this to mean that Bright Colors and Bold Patterns is a downer. For nearly all of its 80 minutes, the show shines like the Palm Springs sun. Dara Wishingrad’s set, which Gerry says looks like “Trina Turk and Betsey Johnson threw up Bacardi Razz, then sold it to Target,” captures the relaxed, slightly generic vibe plastered across airbnb.com and vrbo.com. Also adding to the relaxed vibe: moving the bar from Studio’s second floor lobby into the Milton Theatre itself and replacing the traditional rows of seats with clusters of chairs and tables.
Presented as part of Studio’s summer SHOWROOM series, Bright Colors and Bold Patterns fills that essential entertainment void. It’s light enough for a post-work outing, delivers plentiful laughs, and allows the audience to absorb art and air conditioning at the same time. It might even help relieve the stress of those irritated about upcoming weddings they’ll attend, if only because they don’t want to show up like Gerry: hungover, dehydrated, and sweating through their inoffensive, light-colored clothes.
To July 28 at 1501 14th St. NW. $45–$55. (202) 332-3300. studiotheatre.org.