Always the Bridesmaid
One of the most exciting Philadelphia storytellers, queer or otherwise, is the multi-talented R. Eric Thomas. An acclaimed playwright and performance artist, Thomas has demonstrated a breadth of talents across a variety of platforms including one-man cabarets, multi-person storytelling shows, winning performances at first person story slams, as well as a spot at the 2011 TEDxPhilly conference. From this experienced and talented voice comes the first of a series of one-night stand shows in Quince Productions’ month-long GayFest, an annual queer theater festival held in Philadelphia.
"Always The Bridesmaid" is a thrillingly intricate exploration of some of the bigger (and some of the not so big) day to day struggles that Thomas encounters told through the lens of attending his brother’s wedding. The show touches on everything from race, religion, sexuality and relationships all the way through Thomas’ self-proclaimed love of cupcakes and "Real Housewives" GIF’s.
Furthermore, we get a strong view into the kind of person Thomas wishes to be. Whether it is an inspiring strong person such as Oprah or a flirty, comedically romantic lead like Diane Keaton, he details his own struggles to find a medium with which he can be satisfied.
His talent as a storyteller is clear. The fluidity with which he visits various topics and concerns is an all too rare gift. Thomas creates a multi-dimensional version of himself, and while no storyteller can fully encapsulate everything they are in 80 minutes, it is impressive how close he comes.
One of the other triumphs of "Always The Bridesmaid" is that despite repeated references to familiar topics, he doesn’t stay on any one train of thought for too long. This is seemingly intentional as it is impossible for the entire audience to relate to everything Thomas is going through.
Personally, I was a bit lost during his religious ponderings, but perhaps others were less tuned in to his racial questions or romantic codependency. It is the task of any show to at once to be personally relatable while remaining universally entertaining. This is something that Thomas understands well.
As with most one-man shows, the staging was simple. He used three chairs, a bag of props, one Chik-fil-A beverage and a few hilarious sound bytes to appropriately illustrate every setting he described. The focus was always on Thomas’ story and he was captivating enough that even those props felt more like fun add-ons than anything essential to the experience.
By the end of the show, the audience had the pleasure of being more than simply entertained. While Thomas is admittedly hilarious and flamboyant, he excels equally at self-examination and critical questioning of some of society’s more difficult status quos. What seemed important to Thomas was that not only would he examine some of these issues, but he also wouldn’t steamroll the audience. There was plenty of time for his words and thoughts to sink in and create something of a silent dynamic between the audience and the performer.
It was easy to feel that one not only knew Thomas better, but also had some thinking to do on some of the topics he explored. At just under an hour and a half, "Always The Bridesmaid" accomplished a combination of depth and entertainment that many performers strive for their entire careers. Thomas may sometimes feel like the sidekick in his own romantic comedy, but in his show he is without a doubt the star.
Quince Productions’ GayFest puts on a different show every day during the month of August. For tickets and show information please call 215-627-1088 or visit www.quinceproductions.com.