Can a Tyler Perry production survive the absence of that meddling matron Madea? Judge Bill Gibron definitely thinks so.
Love and marriage.
As they have for the last six years, the members of Poppy's close-knit family have traveled to a cabin in the woods for an annual marriage retreat. There, under the auspices of the late, great Miss Essie, the couples would discuss their troubles and strive to strengthen their vows. With her passing, Poppy has to go it alone. Not to worry, though; he has his devout daughter-in-law Diana by his side. Along with her supportive husband Terry, they have a strong bond, forged in God and tied with trust. The same can't be said for Mike and Shelia. She has gained 80 pounds during their marriage and her harried husband no longer finds his spouse appealing. To make matters worse, he is carrying on behind Sheila's back with Trina, a so-called family friend. So guess whose been invited down for the weekend as well. Add in confirmed bachelor Troy, who claims that he'll settle down once he finds the right woman, and you've got a potential powder keg of unresolved emotions ready to explode. Sure enough, within moments of coming together, truths are revealed and unions are undone. But as with all things troubling, faith in a higher power can patch things up, as well as answer the most important question of all: Why Did I Get Married?
Minus Madea, and focusing on only one major social issue—marriage and infidelity—Why Did I Get Married? is one of Tyler Perry's atypical stage plays. Without his onstage participation—the talented man is still responsible for the words, the direction, and the show's Gospel-inspired music—and the limited scope of the storyline, we finally get to witness Perry purposefully hemmed in. Sure, Meet the Browns also represented a production where the artist's anarchic matron character was sadly missing, but it had the magnificent David and Tamala Mann in the leads, players who've long been part of Perry's theatrical company, but Why Did I Get Married? actually strives to be a legitimate drama. It doesn't go for easy laughs or outright religious ranting. Instead, we are supposed to get to know and sympathize with these characters, realizing that some are headed down incredibly rocky matrimonial roads in the next 120 minutes. Like an urban Company, with married and single folk riffing on romance and love—as well as commitment and fidelity—the end result is something strange. We know that Perry will follow the formulas he's undeniably hinting at, yet we enjoy being manipulated for the sake of the story. In essence, we know every plot point before it arrives and celebrate it shamelessly once it drops.
Truth be told, Perry is not one for subtlety or sleight of hand. When Sheila walks in—actress Cheryl "Pepsii" Reilly in an oversized fat suit—we know that weight will be an issue in the marriage, and its loss a facet of her rebirth. As Trina "the trick" sashays around, measuring the testosterone in the room with her undulating hips, we know she's going to be the undoing of one couple—and the comeuppance for one verbally abusive spouse. Someone shows off a prop gun? It's going to be used at some point in the story. Troy talks about how he always cared for Sheila when they were in school? Guess who'll be together come Act Two. Indeed, all this telegraphing should make Why Did I Get Married? a dull and predictable experience, but because he knows how to work a crowd, capable of creating clear-cut heroes and villains, we buy into most, if not all, of Perry's conventional narrative. Without Madea around to consistently remind us of how impulsive and inventive the show could be (Perry just loves to mess with his creations—sometimes in the middle of a performance), we don't really mind the conventions. We want the happy couple to stay that way, the lousy husband to see the error of his horrid ways, and the put-upon wife to discover her true soulmate. Toss in some peppy pop-culture references, a selection of soothing spirituals, and a series of substantive lessons about life and love, and you have a show that succeeds because of—and definitely in spite of—itself.
As for the performers, Perry couldn't ask for a better cast. Reilly really shines in the role of Sheila, having to carry that unflattering girth for over an hour before the intermission transformation. LeVan Davis, who also appeared in Madea Goes to Jail, does a good job of getting laughs as the occasionally crude (at least for a Perry production) Poppy. Donna Stewart is fantastic as Diana, the moral center of the clan. Her standoffs with Trina and Mike are realistic and peppered with genuineness. In fact, all the dialogue here is loaded with attempts at authenticity, moments where we think we are hearing real couples confessing their confusion. Certainly, we get stereotypes and clichés (Trina the gold digger is, perhaps, the most one-dimensional character Perry has ever created), but there is also a level of compassion, affection, and truth that is rare in any modern entertainment. Indeed, one of the reasons Tyler Perry has become an urbane urban industry unto himself is his inherent ability to strike a balance between old-school values and new-school sentiments. His shows always walk a thin line between preaching and pratfalls, but Why Did I Get Married? manages to be a fairly straightforward musical experience—references to the Bible and big butts included.
As stated before on this site in other reviews of Perry's productions, we are dealing with a videotaped play. Lionsgate treats such a presentation with care and consideration. The 1.33:1 full-frame image is sharp and clear. Obviously helmed by professionals who understand camera angles, framing, and composition, the transfer treats us, the home theater crowd, to a view the live audience could only have hoped for. Equally important is the translation of the music and, it has to be said, it is near-perfect. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soars with Gospel greatness. The audience noise even seems turned up a notch or two. They really get into the swing of things during the many denouement moments in the storyline. As for extras, we get a 30-minute peek behind-the-scenes look at the production, with lots of interviews and rehearsal footage, and something called "Tyler Perry introduces Chandra Currelley: Love Songs." Set inside a club, Perry introduces Ms. Currelley (who was featured in the film version of Madea's Family Reunion) and lets her perform a few songs from her CD. They are just snippets though, not full numbers. Along with a collection of trailers for other Perry titles, this is a decent digital presentation.
With more heart than it should have and more meaning than most evangelical experiences, Why Did I Get Married? is proof that the Perry style of show can work, even with the creator's famous face far back behind the scenes. It's not the best of his several successful stage works, but it's definitely different, and definitely good.
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• "Why Did I Get Married? Behind the Scenes"
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