Review: Never the Bridesmaid (Polarity Ensemble Theatre)

| March 1, 2013 | 42 Comments
Lindsey Pearlman stars as Maria in Polarity Ensemble Theatre's "Never the Bridesmaid" by Bill Jepsen, directed by Richard Shavzin. (photo credit: Katie Sikora Photography)        
Never the Bridesmaid 

Written by Bill Jepsen
Directed by Richard Shavzin
at Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell (map)
thru April 7  |  tickets: $10-$19   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets  
        Read entire review 


Silly and pointless rom-com


Lindsey Pearlman, Daria Harper and Steve Pringle, Never the Bridesmaid

Polarity Ensemble Theatre presents
Never the Bridesmaid

Review by Lauren Whalen 

I enjoy a good romantic comedy. It’s like escapist candy, or Starbucks: you know what you’re getting. Girl meets boy, complications ensue, girl gets boy. Throw in a wacky misunderstanding, quirky friends and a pop soundtrack for extra fun. Never the Bridesmaid is not a good romantic comedy. At best, Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s latest offering is passably pleasant; at worst, it’s an insult to women and their relationships.

Nick Lake and Lindsey Pearlman star in Polarity Ensemble Theatre's "Never the Bridesmaid" by Bill Jepsen, directed by Richard Shavzin. (photo credit: Richard Engling)Maria (Lindsey Pearlman) and Anthony (Nick Lake) are thirtysomething twins who fear falling in love. Maria’s once-widowed and twice-divorced, Anthony was dumped by his fiancée four years ago and since then has buried himself in graduate work (studying romantic poetry, no less). It doesn’t help that their parents (Daria Harper and Steve Pringle) have set extremely high standards with their picture-perfect marriage. Will Maria work through her past for old friend turned potential lover Brian (Brian Plocharczyk)? Will Anthony pursue his long-time crush, Maria’s career-driven pal Kathleen (Kristin Danko)? Will quirky friend Therese (Catherine Hermes) ever have a functional relationship? You can probably guess the answers.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with plot predictability – often the genre has dictates, and there’s a lot of comfort in consistency. But there are certain expectations. In the case of romantic comedy, the audience expects: a likable heroine, visibly developing relationships, dialogue that’s both funny and relatable. Some romantic comedy films pass with flying colors (e.g., “When Harry Met Sally”), others (“Something Borrowed”) fall flat. Though a play, Never a Bridesmaid, is still in the latter category.

Never the Bridesmaid’s script reads like it was written by a man who has watched one too many Katherine Heigl movies. In fact, one wonders whether playwright Bill Jepsen has actually spent time with women. When Maria and Kathleen rush to comfort Therese as she squeals about her broken engagement, I wrote in my notes “I’m so glad this isn’t my life.” Really, it isn’t any woman’s life. I can’t speak for my entire gender, but every whiny and neurotic line, every cute meeting and every pseudo-empowerment felt completely false. Never the Bridesmaid would win a gold medal in pandering.

Nick Lake and Kristin Danko star in Polarity Ensemble Theatre's "Never the Bridesmaid" by Bill Jepsen, directed by Richard Shavzin. (photo credit: Richard Engling) Lindsey Pearlman and Brian Plocharcyzk star in Polarity Ensemble Theatre's "Never the Bridesmaid" by Bill Jepsen, directed by Richard Shavzin. (photo credit: Richard Engling)

With such sad source material, the cast never stood a chance. Only Harper shows any believable emotion toward the show’s merciful end. Pringle has some sweet moments as a doddering old dad, and Hermes displays good comic timing (though her character does not exist in real life – it’s like Jepsen combined Six from “Blossom” and Kimmy Gibbler from “Full House” to form one brightly dressed, dimwitted cliché). Danko and Lake do their best (and Lake is certainly easy on the eyes), but never have believable chemistry. And while I loved Plocharczyk in Stage Left’s Farragut North last season, he’s little more than a plot device here. The biggest problem is Pearlman, who mugs constantly and does a poor job of acting intoxicated. She’s not adorably resilient, she’s shrill and unpleasant. Just like Katherine Heigl in, well, most of her movies.

Jepsen’s no stranger to acclaim: his previous work, Cadillac, was nominated for five Jeff Awards and set attendance records that Chicago Dramatists has yet to break. Perhaps his next play will be better than Never the Bridesmaid, a sorry sophomore showing. Please, Mr. Jepsen, for the sake of all women, do not attempt romantic comedy. Ever again.

Rating: ★½

Never the Bridesmaid continues through April 7th at Josephinum Academy, 1500 N.Bell (map), with performances Fridays/Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 2:30pm.  Tickets are $10-$19, and are available online at (check for half-price tickets at More information at  (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)

Daria Harper and Steve Pringle star in Polarity Ensemble Theatre's "Never the Bridesmaid" by Bill Jepsen, directed by Richard Shavzin. (photo credit: Richard Engling)

Photos by Katie Sikora and Richard Engling 




Kristin Danko (Kathleen), Steve Pringle (Elmer), Daria Harper (Doris), Nick Lake (Anthony), Catherine Hermes (Therese), Lindsey Pearlman (Maria), Brian Plocharczyk (Brian), Margo Chervony (understudy)

behind the scenes

Richard Shavzin (director), Richard Engling (artistic director, photos), Charles C. Palia, Jr. (set design), Benjamin L. White (lighting), Andrew Dallas (sound design), Brenda Winstead  (costumes), Vivian Knouse (props design), Dustin Pettegrew (tech director), Jamie Crothers (stage manager), Rosie Newton (asst. director), Andrea DeLonis (asst. stage manager), Katie Sikora Photography (photos)


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Category: 2013 Reviews, Josephinum Academy, Lauren Whalen, Polarity Theatre

Comments (42)

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  1. Sara K. says:

    I happened to catch Cadillac by chance several years ago, and randomly found myself going last minute with my friend when she found herself with an extra ticket for a preview night. I didn’t make the connection until I was reading the playbill during intermission.

    I think to compare a drama and a comedy is simply unfair. Who walks out of a comedy saying “Now that was profound!”? This play will not move you like Cadillac did, but it does tug at your heart stings. It’s a bit on the long side, but really, I don’t know what you’d cut out.

    For anyone interested in a review that picks up on more nuances of the characters, I thought this review was more in line with how I felt when I left:

    Also, I’m going to start seeing more shows at this theater. I love the space!

  2. Matt G. says:

    I agree with Sara K — for a more accurate review about the actual play (and not a reviewer’s screed about her own life), jump to the link’d review. I found the play hilarious, well-cast (the lead, Lindsey Pearlman, was terrific), heartfelt, and wise. Highly recommended. It’s a shame this review is the first one that pops up. Go see it.

    • Sara K. says:

      Right on! I swear the first time I read Lauren’s review, I thought “Did we even watch the same play!?”

      This play is hilarious, touching and the characters/dialogue are so believable.

      I wish her review wasn’t the first one that came up on the google search too. :(

      Highly recommend this play!

      • Will G says:

        I saw the play and loved it, so I too was surprised by this review. You have to wonder about a critic (“Lauren Whalen”) who calls herself The Unprofessional Critic. That she is. She’s smart to hide her identity, since so few will agree with her take on it.

      • MaryE says:

        The review you are linking to has all the sophistication of a middle school book report. I just can’t take it seriously.

    • JC says:

      Really Matt? “A screed about her own life”? So if a reviewer doesn’t have the same response that you do she merits a personal attack? Is it possible for you to have an intelligent disagreement without ad hominem remarks? Ms. Whalen gave her opionion, and her reasons for it. That’s her job. You disagree. Fine.

  3. Mary B. says:

    Hard for me to believe that the critic L. Whalen attended the same play I did last night. Her bitter, snide comments flabbergasted me. The play was a delight – funny, heartwarming, tender and real. The playwright’s gift for dialogue is amazing – people do talk like this; families do relate to one another as portrayed. The mother-daughter scenes were pitch perfect – wise, compassionate, insightful and moving. I loved this play for its humor, lovely “heart”, decency and hopefulness. Perhaps Whalen has not experienced what being a member of a tribe” such as this family feels like – I wish she could. Go see this play!

  4. Theater goer says:

    I’ve never seen so many comments regarding a review. I wish I could believe you’re not friends of the actors involved. Sorry but the comments are little extreme.

    It’s just one persons opinion and sure it’s disappointing when critics come and don’t like the work. But that’s part of the business.

    If the work is good word of mouth will spread and people will come see it.

    But the critic is unfortunately entitled to say what they walked away with.
    But for the time being everyone in the world is now a critic due to being able to post comments on anything and everything and now we’re able to bash the critic.

    It’s a joke.

  5. Thank you, everyone, for leaving comments. Your feedback is always welcome.

    My opinion is just that, my opinion. You are certainly entitled to disagree, just as I am entitled to write what I see and how I see it.

    I’m not going to reiterate my opinions in this comment (you can reread the review for that), but I will say that I see a lot of theater, especially at this time in the season when many shows are opening. Some things work for me. Some do not. I’ve seen many shows that others loved but I found lacking, and vice versa. It’s the nature of the beast.

    Again, thank you for your comments.

    • JC says:

      Lauren, I really enjoy your reviews. Whether I agree or diagree with your opnions, they are always well written and clearly explained.

  6. Chitowntheatre says:

    Unfortunately all the critics have the same opinion on this production.

    • anon says:

      uh, wrong.

      • Chitowntheatre says:

        Have you read the Reader review and Time Out Magazine review? That’s what I’m speaking about.
        Haven’t read any others. I’m sure there are good ones out there but haven’t seen them.

        Who knows what is considered a good resource for reviews.

    • anon says:

      Mr. Joseph Jefferson is probably one… he seemed to like it quite a bit.

  7. Dina says:

    Wow! Funny, I also had the “did we see the same play” response to this review. Maybe the particular performance I saw was better? Who knows.
    I enjoyed every bit of it. It’s a simple, enjoyable two hours. All of the actors were very, very good. Steve Pringle as the father was quite funny, and Lindsey Pearlman was a standout for my husband and I – (the opposite of shrill/unpleasant, actually. She made us laugh and cry, in a good way!) And no, “Theater Goer”, I don’t know the actors – we were told by a relative of the playwright that the show was worth seeing. The story is sweet and we left feeling great.
    We may see it again with friends. Opinions are opinions, Ms. Whalen of course has every right to express hers, and I just really liked this show.
    I would say that this is not exactly a criticism, though. Ms. Whalen does not have the right to tell the playwright to not write another romantic comedy. That’s cruel – not critique. She does not speak on behalf of “all women”. At least not this one.

  8. P. says:

    I agree with Dina; Ms. Whalen does not speak for me. I am a woman. I loved the play, and the people in the audience with me seemed to love it, too. I’m also very surprised at Whalen’s hostile review of Pearlman–but perhaps this is the logical result of such a review: a man supposedly can’t write about women, so the lead female is “shrill and unpleasant.” But she’s not; she’s bright and funny and wonderful. So, maybe if you’re still at the stage in life where the thought of being like everyone else horrifies you, you won’t like this play; however, if you’ve lived a little (or if you don’t place hipster status high on your list of priorities in life), you will love this play.

    • LKate says:

      Considering she says right in the review that she doesn’t speak for her entire gender, you’re right that she doesn’t speak for you.

  9. ronnie regan says:

    I do not know how a review could be further off mark as most every person here has been suggesting. I went to see this play last night with my girlfriend and we were both extremely impressed with the entire production. There were many moments of brilliance in the near constant witty dialogue about a subject close to all our hearts – ‘Love’ in all it’s frailties. It was well-crafted with equal measures of quick one liners (‘who’s heard of a 4th wedding dress!?’ and the reference to swallowing an encyclopedia etc-my personal favorite!),pure wisdoms and sad truths to leave most if not all of the audience satisfied. The only complaint I heard on the night was over the temperature being too warm in the theatre, making it probably the best back-handed compliment a small theatre could receive as the space was at capacity!

    What type of person could slate this show? I think the answer is simple, someone that does not know or appreciate the goodness of the human endeavor but rather embraces the mocking and cynical approach of a soulless millenial. Maybe Miss Whalen needs to get herself some reruns of Jenny McCarthy when she hosted her favorite ‘dating show’ on MTV, that might bring her back to the shallow-place from where she obviously came from and belongs. Woeful review, stick to your Starbucks coffees in the future!

    • LKate says:

      “soulless millenial”

      “bring her back to the shallow-place from where she obviously came from and belongs”

      No need to get personal and nasty because you disagree with someone.

  10. Chicago Theatre says:

    Don’t hate the players hate the game.

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion good or bad and some are more blunt and others not at all. But this is nothing new and goes with the territory of any art.

    Get over the bad review and stop the reviewer bashing. It’s such a waste of time.

    It’s great to write your true opinion but to bash a critic because of theirs sounds like being a sore loser. Why not laugh this off and continue with the work itself?

    There have been 3 bad reviews of this play. Is everyone bashing those critics as well?

    Go see theatre regardless of any review or opinion if you want to. Obviously we all aren’t going to agree or have the same taste in theatre. And if you’re in this business you need to accept that.

    Let go and move on. And if you want to write an opinion keep it about the story, the production, the actors, the director, writer and give examples to back up your opinion.

  11. Dina says:

    Ms. Whalen is receiving backlash not because of what she said, but how she said it. Unprofessional. Only a jerk would speak “on behalf of all women” and tell a playwright to stop writing. Using hyperboles to get attention has worked in her case, but not in her favor.

    • Chicago Theatre says:

      All critics can be like this Ms. Whalen is no exception to this. Have you read other reviews besides this one? This isn’t the first blunt review from a critic that says things the way she has. Unfortunately.

      It just goes with the territory. Sure it’s too bad but don’t invite the critics if you can’t handle their response. I’ve read much worse and in reputable papers.

      Again, it’s just an opinion. And I do happen to agree with yours. We can’t really do our work and care what the critics think though, can we?

      Maybe discussing the critics purpose and how their reviews effect audiences might be more constructive.

    • LKate says:

      She specifically said she DOESN’T speak for all women. You may want to read more carefully.

  12. Barbara says:

    At over 2 hours, this play was 120 minutes too long.

  13. LKate says:

    I wonder if there would be fewer personal attacks if the critic in question were a man.

  14. Chitowntheatre says:

    Reviews can be brutal whether how bluntly or how gently the critic writes.

    I think if the reviewer wrote I wasn’t a fan of the writing or acting the sting is just the same for all involved in the production when reading a bad review.

    It’s up to each critic their writing style and way of saying things just like it is with the people putting up the production.

    I like the dialogue this has created but it’s not constructive.

    I have not seen this play and don’t plan to but I have read scenes from it. It’s just not my cup of tea as far as the story and honestly when reading it certain things did not ring true for me as a person. I did not relate. And it didn’t move me. But that’s not always the point of every story. To relate. But to invoke some sort of feeling or response when seeing it live. Yes. Everyone is entitled to that whether good or bad.

    We can’t please everyone and I hope that’s not the purpose to get a good review.

    Reviews can be harsh. And I’ve been on the receiving end of bad ones. But there’s something humorous about a critics response and how they decide to say their opinion. This is entertainment after all. Not in a bashing type of way. It’s just their immediate response and they are entitled to say it. It’s like a Joan Rivers response. And certain people have this style of saying their opinion.

    Our whole goal as artists and critics is to be completely honest and truthful in the moment.

    I don’t like harsh critics. Sometimes they are kind and just don’t mention you if they didn’t like your work.

    But just like I admire artists for being bold, brave and honest, there’s something about someone who can be brave enough to post their honest feedback. Could it be done more tactfully? I don’t know what’s right here. Because just like I require an honest performance it is important to give your honest opinion.

    This review was off the cuff and a reaction to what they saw. And sometimes it sucks hearing it in any particular way.

    Maybe write about whether you prefer critics to put kitten gloves on or let them know how they can effect ticket sales with bad reviews. Or maybe if their review is awful don’t post it. But it’s hard to take away someones opinion or say they can’t say something unless it is said in a certain way.

  15. VB says:

    The review in Time out was bad as well for this. There is only one good review of this play. I don’t think it was as bad as said here, but it is a sitcom. And Friends and other 90s television did it better. But bashing a critic when perhaps she did expect more out of the female characters? Who knows – but the people who loved the play here are in disagreement with three major critics.

    • anon says:

      I wouldn’t call them major.

      • Opinionated says:

        Be honest here. You wouldn’t call them major because they are not giving a good review. But if you were given a good review this conversation would have never started.

        Sorry but you can’t have it all ways here and if you want any press on your play I wouldn’t be saying any critic is not major because obviously these not major critics have effected you somehow. Otherwise why mention them?

        And who is exactly a major critic and why are you so set on either pleasing them or putting them down? Our major publications in Chicago do include The Reader and TimeOut and the Tribune. And yes, people read Chicago Theatre Beat.

        If you agree with Cheeky Chicago, you’d have to agree that’s not a major critic either, right so I guess that good review doesn’t count.

        And if you’re waiting for a review from the Tribune I seriously doubt this play is on their list to see.

        Get real. You’re in Chicago doing theatre. Do the work outside of praise or criticism from anyone.

    • anon says:

      There’s three good reviews of this play, actually.

  16. anon says:

    Not sure why you consider this “my” play. I saw it, I liked it, and that’s that. I’m not “in Chicago doing theatre”. I just go see it.
    The review wasn’t exactly complimentary, but I actually thought it was better written and more coherent than this one, with points of view from a critical standpoint rather than Whalen’s silly one. Again, not a “major” critic, but I respected his balanced thoughts on the show overall.

  17. Opinionated says:

    Thank you. I liked that review quite a bit and it completely makes sense what you are saying regarding both reviews and how that one said things in a different way but made it’s points. I do also like that the critic pointed out the good and pointed out the part other people might not get into. And it was done in a nice way.

    I hadn’t heard of Center Stage Reviews but will now look at that as well.

  18. Rachel K. says:

    What amazes me is how personally the detractors to this review have taken it. You all seem incensed that she had the nerve to dislike something that you liked, as though having an opinion different than yours is some kind of crime. Get over it, and get over your need for unconditional positive regard, kids. If the responses here are any indication of the maturity level of this show’s fans, I can see where the disconnect lies.

    • anon says:

      It actually seems as though YOU take it quite personally. My goodness…

    • Jamie says:

      Rachel K your response is hilariously true. After reading all comments it is quite sad that everyone has to prove their point that the critic is somehow awful and wrong because she had an opinion. No other reviews on this site have comments like this so it is a little weird the audience has responded this way much less taken the time to comment in such a way.

  19. mefeiner2003 says:

    Received this from Polarity Ensemble Theatre today by way of thanks for attending this play (nice of them really!) so I just wanted to share it with anyone who might value it…and perhaps pudding!?

    Thanks for helping make Never the Bridesmaid the best-selling play in our 9 year history! We’d like to close Bill’s play with a bang! Please tell your friends that tickets for the final 3 performances can be purchased at $10 each with the discount code “insider” online or by calling 800-838-3006. Thanks for helping make this wonderful new play such a success!

  20. Midge says:

    Well, Ms. Pearlman won a Jeff. That should end things.

  21. Nicola Davenport says:

    No, the Jeff doesn’t put an end to anything. This whole thing–the abysmal play, the Coming to the Defense of the supposedly enlightened but actually quite sexist and egotistical playwright, the trotting out of fake praise for a merely popular guy with a lot of friends–was ludicrous. Thank goodness for the few honest souls out there who spoke the truth. The only change I would suggest to Ms. Whalen’s “one wonders whether playwright Bill Jepsen has ever spent time with women” would be “one is disappointed by what Bill Jepsen thinks about when he is forced to spend time with no-longer young and no-longer ‘cute’ women.” He takes it as an affront to his genius. “Silly and pointless”? Yes. The play is silly and pointless.

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