Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 12, 2011
Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays is a compendium of short plays by well-known playwrights on the timely topic indicated in the subtitle. Though the subject has a strong political component, none of the plays on this docket seems particularly calculated to change anybody's mind about anything; this is passive, risk-free theatre that asks nothing of its audience other than to relax and enjoy itself.
Well, there is one other thing asked: because the format of Standing on Ceremony is mostly that of a staged reading, the audience members are called upon to conjure, in their mind's eyes, each play's set and costuming. Production values that we take for granted at an off-Broadway show where the tickets cost $79.50 are not provided here.
There are ten plays listed in the program, with the promise of additional ones to come (per a letter from the producing team in my press packet). Nine of these were performed at the show I attended. Two of them were written by women, and these are the only ones that deal with lesbian couples (men can't write plays about lesbians?). Wendy MacLeod's "The Flight Tonight" is about two women preparing to fly to Iowa for their wedding. Mo Gaffney's "Traditional Wedding" features two women reminiscing about their wedding. Neither made much of an impression.
Evincing far more visceral response were the two Paul Rudnick comedies on the bill, both of which star Harriet Harris, on a rampage. In "The Gay Agenda," she's a rabid opponent of same-sex marriage; in "My Husband," she's a deranged Jewish mama who is eager to see her gay son married so that she can impress her friends. Both of these pieces have funny moments (to be fair, the crowd ate them up), but they felt more like magazine sketches than full-fledged plays.
Doug Wright's "Our Facebook" echoes "The Gay Agenda" in its homophobic middle-American woman character who posts a nasty comment on a gay friend's Facebook page.
The remaining four plays I saw were concerned with male couples. Jordan Harrison's "The Revision" finds two men re-writing traditional wedding vows to match the realities of the current state of same-sex marriage in America. It has teeth, but it's a one-note concept that goes on longer than it needs to. Neil LaBute's "Strange Fruit" echoes one of the plays in bash with a tale of the tragic aftermath of a gay wedding. Jose Rivera's "Pablo & Andrew at the Altar of Words" echoes "The Revision" with a poetical set of vows taking center stage in its depiction of a wedding ceremony.
The play I liked was Moises Kaufman's "London Mosquitoes," a monologue (performed to perfection here by Richard Thomas) in which, at the funeral of his longtime partner, a gay man looks back at a marriage never sanctified by the law. This piece is the only one that looks at the other side of this contentious issue, making a strong case not against gay marriage but rather for not being for it. Perhaps because it was the only play in Standing on Ceremony that was performed more or less as intended (by which I mean that having the character reading at a podium was completely organic in this context), it was the only one that felt fully successful to me.
I was surprised by the lack of diversity in the cast, by the lack of variety in female voices (not enough playwrights and not enough different kinds of characters on stage), and most important by the lack of any real urgency in the arguments posited in the plays. There are compelling stories to be told about why equal rights for gay couples are important: marriages are not just about weddings, after all.
Besides Harris and Thomas, the cast included Craig Bierko, Mark Consuelos, Polly Draper, and Beth Leavel—certainly competent performers all. Revolving door casting, now so de rigueur, is expected in the future. Maybe some of the high-profile gay performers in our town will get a crack at some of these roles.