Act 1, Scene 1 of Carrie Suggs and Thad Brown’s story features the most familiar of romantic comedy devices: the “meet-cute.” The curtains open to the students in a fluorescent-lighted, white-walled classroom at Gallaudet University on the first day of the fall semester. The year: 2009. The subject: theater. The first impression: very bad.
Signing through an interpreter, Brown says: “I remember the first day of class, she pretty much — not like, interrupted the professor, but was like, ‘I need to talk to you about my HONORS PROGRAM.’ ”
Suggs: “I did not do that!”
Brown: “She was the honors student and needed to make sure that everyone knew it.”
Suggs: “What’s wrong with that? I was proud of it.”
Flash-forward to a later act — not the final one, because this production is still just beginning. This time, another familiar theatrical device: the play-within-a-play. And this scene is a wedding.
Suggs, 29, and Brown, 22, are getting married July 21, and if you’d like to see their ceremony, you’re invited to buy a ticket. This is not a breach of etiquette — Carrie is no bridezilla — but rather, a necessity for the good folks at the Faction of Fools Theatre Company, which is staging the wedding in its Capital Fringe Festival show “3rd Annual Fool for All: Tales of Marriage and Mozzarella .” It is the first-ever Fringe wedding, which founder Julianne Brienza said is “a big deal.”
But the reason Suggs and Brown are getting married onstage is because they don’t want to make a big deal of it.
“It took the burden off of me,” said Suggs, through interpreter Lindsey Snyder, director of access for Faction of Fools. “Someone else gets to plan it, someone else takes control of the whole thing, which is very cool.”
“It’s nice because we’re both poor college students,” Brown said. “We want to get married, but we don’t want to spend all that money.”
“And I really don’t want a traditional wedding,” Suggs added. “The little girl’s white wedding — that’s not really who I am.”
Suggs is a D.C. native, a mom and, yes, an honors student. She has tattoos, a septum piercing and a Mia Farrowesque pixie haircut. She was 19 when she had her son, Alexander, who is now 9; his arrival pushed back her college plans.
“I kept getting distracted,” she said. “I took a gamble and applied to Gallaudet, and I got a full four-year scholarship. I got some grant money to get books, and there was a little left, so I got this.” She points to a half-sleeve tattoo of cherry blossoms on her left arm. “When I graduate, I’ll get the color.”
When Thad — also tattooed, also septum-pierced — overcame his first impression of her, it was February, and Snowmageddon had dumped feet of white powder on the ground outside their dorm rooms. They waited out the storm, and the week of canceled classes, in Suggs’s room. Their first official date was to visit the Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery. They worked on several theater productions together, including a memorable turn in “Charlotte’s Web” (Brown was farmer Homer Zuckerman and Suggs was Charlotte). “We flirted a lot during rehearsal,” Brown said.
Two years later, Suggs accompanied Brown on a New Year’s trip to his home town, Seattle. On Jan. 1, 2011, they set off for a visit to Snoqualmie Falls. Brown knew he was going to propose — he had already asked her father for permission, one of the few traditional sticking points for this untraditional bride — and he was so nervous on the way there that he skidded on a patch of ice and drove his car into a ditch. Neither the car nor its occupants were harmed, so they continued on to the waterfall, which was packed with tourists.
“He said, ‘Take off your gloves,’ ” Suggs said. “And I’m like, ‘Uh, no, my hands are cold.’ So I saw this look in his eyes. I said, ‘Okay,’ I took off my gloves, and he said, ‘I love you, and I want to be with you for the rest of my life.’ . . . and he got down on his knees and said, ‘Will you marry me?’ And I said, ‘Yea!’ ”
They thought about renting a beach house to host a wedding with friends and family. They thought about going to city hall. They even thought about trying to get married on Leap Day, but, “It didn’t really feel right,” Suggs said. Then, through the theater community at Gallaudet, they heard that Faction of Fools was looking for a couple who were interested in getting married during Fringe, and the plans clicked into place with little planning on their parts. So far, they’ve barely even attended any rehearsals.
“Marriage and Mozzarella” is a series of vignettes in Faction of Fools style: commedia dell’arte, the traditional 16th-century form of Italian theater that involves stock characters such as tricky servants and their masters. It is usually performed with masks, and gesture and physical comedy are important to the genre. Thanks to Faction of Fools’s residency at Gallaudet, seven deaf actors will perform in the show, which will be sign-language interpreted. Although the deaf actors will not have their American Sign Language interpreted vocally, Snyder said scenes in ASL will be structured so they are clear for hearing audiences. The exception will be the wedding vows.
Marriage figures into the plot of most commedia dell’arte, which revolves around an intended wedding and the obstacles that come between young lovers, including meddling parents.
“In the end, order is restored and everyone is happy; however, the wedding itself is only occasionally part of the show,” artistic director Matthew R. Wilson wrote in an e-mail. “Normally, we simply end with the promise of a wedding (just as we began with one before things went wrong!).”
Nevertheless, there is precedent for legally binding matrimony in commedia — sometimes, Wilson said, masked acting troupes would be the entertainment at an Italian nobleman’s wedding and give special roles to the bride and groom.
At the Fringe performance, which will take place in Studio Theatre, the wedding will be the final scene. After two fathers place a sizable bet on the union of their children, the kids break up — but the two fathers pull some stand-ins out of the audience for a ceremony, seemingly spontaneously. For some preselected couples in other performances, the ceremony will be a vow renewal, but for Suggs and Brown, it will be the real deal: The actor who will play their officiant has been ordained online. They picked up their marriage license July 6.
Still, the members of the audience who aren’t friends and family of the couple might not entirely understand what they’re seeing.
“What will make it special is that there’s going to be huge group of people who know it’s real, and there will be some people who don’t know, and some people who think, but aren’t sure, so that’s kind of fun,” Snyder said. “It will be in the spirit of the room.”
Once they’re married, Suggs plans to finish her senior year at Gallaudet and apply to grad school for psychology or theater, her undergraduate course of study. Brown, who has left school, will home-school Alexander, then apply to other schools for his bachelor’s degree. They’ll live in Gallaudet’s family housing, surrounded by their hundreds of books (“If anyone wants to get us a wedding gift? Bookshelves,” Suggs said). They’ll dream about adopting a cat or a chicken, and they’ll plan the tattoos they will someday get, together. Suggs will keep posting funny pictures of Brown, asleep, decorated with her son’s toys, to her blog. They’ll continue to talk quickly, and often, over each other. But in moments of silence — when their hands are at rest — they’ll reach across the table and interlock their fingers.
But before that, there’s one last traditional obstacle for the untraditional wedding: attire.
“I went to three different stores looking for a nice dress that’s not too formal and not too prommy,” Suggs said. “I tried on 30 dresses, but I couldn’t find the right one, but I will dress up.” She turned to Brown. “The day we get married, you will see the dress. But not before.”
July 21 at 2:30 p.m. (other performances Saturday, Tuesday, July 25 and July 28). $17 (plus a one-time purchase of a Capital Fringe Festival button, $7). Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. capfringe.org.