Aspen on the guest list for ‘My Cousin’s Wedding’ |

Aspen on the guest list for ‘My Cousin’s Wedding’

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The fictionalized comedy version of a couple getting married is all too familiar territory. There’s the high-strung bride, the meddling and clashing parents, the groom who would rather be anywhere than under the spotlight.

A couple invited to a wedding, however, is wide-open territory. It’s a situation everyone knows, and opens up a completely familiar but more prosaic set of concerns than one’s own wedding: Who are these people getting married, and why are they inviting us? Don’t we have better things to do on a Saturday night? We have to spend what on a present? And always the lingering idea ” how will attending this wedding affect my own relationship?

That’s the way it seemed to Maribeth Monroe and Kirk Hanley. The two actors, both Midwest born and raised, met in 2000 as members of the Second City Detroit, an offshoot of Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe. Monroe and Hanley performed in several sketch shows together, and found they had tight comic chemistry. Monroe told Hanley she wanted to try expanding the short sketches into a sustained, two-act play. The two brainstormed for a topic and hit upon the idea of a couple not getting married, but invited to a wedding, and handling all the stresses that come with it.

“Most of our scenes [at Second City Detroit] were relationship scenes ” husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend. So we knew we wanted to do a couple ” coming together, falling apart,” said Monroe, a motor-mouthed 25-year-old from Fraser, Mich., a suburb of Detroit.

A couple getting married was far too ordinary, they both knew.

“But what if we did a play about a couple going to a wedding, and how that affects the relationship, rather than the couple in the wedding? That intrigued us,” said Monroe. “The big trap to fall into with a love story is it becomes a cliche. We’ve all seen every take possible on the love story. This is a different angle, but we all go through getting the invitation, buying the gift, going to the bachelor party. And a lot of couples go through that together.”

Second City Detroit thought enough of Monroe and Hanley’s play, “Standing on Ceremony,” to give the two a seven-week, once-a-week run at the company’s 350-seat theater.

And when the run was over, Monroe and Hanley treated their creation as if it was some distant cousin’s wedding. “After seven weeks, we kind of forgot about it for a while,” admitted Monroe, who then moved on to Chicago to join the Second City Touring Company.

But then some unexpected honors rolled in. The Oakland Press nominated “Standing on Ceremony” for best new script, calling it “as funny as anything on Second City’s stage.” That put the show back in its creators’ minds. Changing the title to “My Cousin’s Wedding,” Monroe and Hanley brought the show to the Second City in Chicago, who gave it a four-week, two-nights-a-week run in the 200-seat ETC Theater. With sellouts the norm, the run was extended to eight weeks. This past summer, “My Cousin’s Wedding” took to the road.

“My Cousin’s Wedding” lands in Aspen with a 7 p.m. show at the Wheeler Opera House Friday, Dec. 26.

Monroe says the show is succeeding for a lot of reasons. There is the different perspective it offers on relationships. She also believes that she and Hanley are both good at writing dialogue.

And then there are the two main characters, the unmarried couple of Monroe’s Meg and Hanley’s Mike. Monroe says she and Hanley were able to bring so much of themselves to the characters because the two writers were so close. “We could imagine ourselves as a married couple,” she said.

Meg, said Monroe, is “a borderline bitter character. She smokes. She tries to be romantic but she fails at it, so she tries other avenues of relating to Mike. She’s been hurt before. She wants to be spontaneous, but she doesn’t know how to get Mike to be spontaneous.”

Though “My Cousin’s Wedding” consists of just two actors, the play is not limited to two characters. Monroe also plays Lyle, a 17-year-old burnout who lives in his parents’ basement and gives dubious relationship advice to Mike, and Uncle Clyde, an ever-present but rarely seen 80-year-old who drives Mike nuts with his loud, obnoxious tips on love and life.

In addition to Mike, Kirk plays the wedding planner Helen, and two characters who appear only in voice-overs: a quasi-perverted pastor “who uses words like menage a trois and erotic in his sermons,” according to Monroe, and the flirtatious wedding reception emcee, DJ Jazzy John. (Monroe and Hanley made a decision that all their secondary characters would be of the opposite gender of the actor who played them.)

“My Cousin’s Wedding” is structured as a two-act play. Act one is set at the church, with Meg and Mike arriving late in a commotion. Act two takes place at the reception. But there are numerous flashbacks ” to the receipt of the invitation, to picking out the gift, to getting lost on the way to the wedding ” asides and voice-overs, giving the comedy a whirlwind of energy.

And there are even sets and costumes. In typical Second City fashion, “My Cousin’s Wedding” began life with just wood chairs, some hand props and costumes. There is now an actual set of three 8-by-8-foot screens of art and slides.

“It’s amazing that we have a budget,” said Monroe, who lives in Chicago, where she auditions for film and commercial roles, and did an eight-month stint in Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” “But it’s still very minimalist.”

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is

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