You know how there are tours of New York where you go to all the sights of movies and TV shows and then drink expensive hot cocoa just like in Serendipity? “Real” New Yorkers love to pretend like they hate things like that, but I’m willing to bet they secretly love walking by a deli or dry cleaner and thinking, “Oh! Like in Annie Hall/Seinfeld/Vanilla Sky!” When you live somewhere smaller, there aren’t many scripts geared toward your daily references, and when you get one (hello, The Notebook), you feel connected to it, even if it’s not something you’d usually want to seek out.
Playwright David Lee Nelson’s Folly Beach was, in that regard, the perfect Charleston summer comedy. Sitting in PURE Theatre and looking down at the coral-pink, Golden Girls set, you couldn’t help but think of the corny vacation rentals your friends from out of town always want to drag you to; the likeness ventures past accurate and into wildly uncanny. Seashells and a guest book dotted the set, which got progressively more unkempt as the production wore on, much like an actual Folly rental gets over a vacation. Exceptional sound design made the transitions between acts and scenes fun and campy — everyone likes to hear Ying Yang Twins “Whistle While You Twerk” and wonder what on earth that could be foreshadowing.
Inside this particular beach bungalow sat a group of late-20s/early-30s friends who have returned to one of their parents’ Folly cabins to celebrate and bemoan the second wedding of their number. By osmosis, we can gather he’s one of those guys whose wedding is less a point of entry into the blessed union of souls and more of a biennial wine tasting.
This gang covers the gamut of young professionals. You’ve got the big-shot media guy, the spiritual hippie, the prematurely suburban bro, the insufferable “just one of the guys” girl, the misfit significant other, and more — think Friends, but on James Island.
Ensemble casts like this are perfect for zingy one-liners and the smart kind of back and forth that comes from having a close-knit gang of friends. The cast of Folly Beach nailed that. Particularly strong performances by Noah Smith (the fratty Tom) and Cameron Tubbs (Brent, a newly-minted Buddhist) kept that ball rolling long into the second act, trading barbs in the gently teasing way that is particular to long-term friendships. Constant references to the cheesiness of the set kept the groupthink that permeates friend groups alive, even when you wondered how on earth all these people became close to begin with.
Unfortunately, there were so many characters that the 2 hour and 15 minute show feels like comparatively little time to get to know them in the way you care about Robin and Barney and Ted on How I Met Your Mother. Since there were so many narrative arcs to resolve, some of them got mangled during a mad dash to the conclusion. It wasn’t so much weak acting or dialog that consigned one person or another to this particular distinction, but rather too much to do in too little time.
If you’re looking for a fun summery comedy that makes topical local jokes (don’t worry, they get a couple “I Love Ohio” digs in), Folly Beach is a great way to spend a couple hours in an exquisitely air-conditioned room, but don’t expect the second coming of Rachel, Ross, Joey, Monica, Chandler, and Phoebe. Come for the Findlay, Ohio jokes and ugly throw pillows, and stay for the goofy beachside play-fighting and gun-toting wedding planner rather than the insights on love and friendship.