It had to happen. With the feeding frenzy over the passage of the same-sex marriage laws, in the press and in the chapel, someone had to come up with a play about it. Nine plays, in fact, staged in various venues across America (in New York, down at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village), featuring six skilled and adaptable actors reading the words of such diverse playwrights as Paul Rudnick, Moises Kaufman, Neil LaBute and Mo Gaffney, to name a few, on the subject of one of the biggest hot-button topics of the century. The umbrella title, Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, says it all. All you have to do is listen, shed an occasional tear and laugh a lot. There is something for everybody.
“The Revision,” by Jordan Harrison, has Richard Thomas and Craig Bierko exploring new facets of their talents as a couple who, after deciding to bite the bullet and tie the knot, debate the semantics of the nuptials. Words like “husband” have taken on new meaning. Mr. Thomas’s uptight father from Goldman Sachs is not going to like the stuff about “my lawfully wedded wife.” Mr. Bierko gags at stuff about “honor and cherish” applied to another man. But although the language is changing, the only thing that matters the same way is “I do.”
In “This Flight Tonight,” by Wendy MacLeod, two lesbians played with wry humor by Polly Draper and Beth Leavel are waiting at LAX for a plane to Des Moines to get married. Did they make the right decision? One wishes they had stayed in L.A., where they have a gay choir. The other wonders why her new in-laws keep sending her gifts of power tools. Both are afraid of the word “monogamy.” In the end, the power of love is stronger than the weakness of trepidation.
As usual, the biggest laughs go to Paul Rudnick, represented by two plays that reduce the viewer to guffaws. In “The Gay Agenda,” an Ohio homemaker and judgmental, anal-retentive, conservative Republican spokeswoman for traditional family values, played by the wallopingly delightful Harriet Harris, confesses she broad-mindedly accepts blacks, Chinese (because they made the colorful jacket she’s wearing tonight) and even Muslims (and would someday even like to meet one). But she just has an unsolvable problem with gays. Like this marriage thing, which she labels “the gay agenda.” Get down to the nitty-gritty and her reason is clear: they haven’t left her one thing of her own—even Ricky Martin and the brawny he-man in the plaid shirt on the Bounty paper towels. Plus, she feels outdated and inferior. In her mind, she can hear that taunting gay voice, assessing her repro colonial furniture and plaid wallpaper and saying, “This is where Betty Crocker died.” By the end, Mr. Rudnick has her so confused and hysterical that she flees from the podium screaming.
Returning a second time, Mr. Rudnick’s play “My Husband” brings back the show-stopping Ms. Harris as the frustrated mother of a gay man played by Latin soap heartthrob Mark Consuelos. If everything else in society is in the process of being redefined, why should Jewish mothers be any different? This liberal Jewish Democrat who teaches political science at NYU would do anything to fix up her son with another nice Jewish boy and get him to the altar. Every Sunday when she reads the wedding announcements in The Times, she searches achingly for her son’s photo. Jewish mothers never change, but they can keep up with current events. She’s even got a friend who brags about her son Oscar Wilde Walt Whitman Michelangelo Markowitz posing with his husband in front of the Stonewall in sailor suits, so she makes up a wedding announcement for her own son, to be held onstage at Radio City Music Hall “in the middle of the Tony Awards.” Ms. Harris is a howl and a half, and unlike those vulgar, moronic Jewish travesties by Woody Allen and Elaine May now showing on Broadway under the title Relatively Speaking, Mr. Rudnick’s exaggerated jokes are full of heart and humor and fresh kosher pickles.
A different take on the changing role of parents is examined in Mo Gaffney’s “Traditional Wedding,” with Ms. Draper and Ms. Leavel back at their music stands as another lesbian couple who experience a different kind of surprise. Nothing Kardashian, no wedding planner, no father giving away the bride, says the one who wants originality. Try not to shock the parents, says the one who opts for tradition. The play turns the tables on them both when one girl’s parents don’t bother to show up and the other partner’s 75-year-old ex-Marine father embraces them with pride and tears in his eyes. The point is that the components that make up gay weddings, like the laws that made them legal, always change when you least expect them to.
Things turn dark in Neil LaBute’s “Strange Fruit.” They always do in his plays. This time Mr. Bierko and Mr. Consuelos discuss all the pain of conformity they went through to appear “normal” until gay-marriage legislation finally allowed them to experience the first happiness of their lives—just in time for tragedy to strike. Moises Kaufman’s odd but moving “London Mosquitoes” provides Richard Thomas with a riveting monologue delivered in the form of a eulogy for the man he loved for 46 years. It’s a galvanizing piece that demonstrates how same-sex marriage is living proof that the human race is still evolving, in all the right ways. “On Facebook,” by Doug Wright, features the entire cast as Internet nuts whose opinions clash in an idiotic chaos of social networking. “Call it domestic partnerships, call it civil unions—but keep it out of the church,” rants one conservative. Things turn vicious until one blogger announces his intention to turn the whole thread into a play. Then things get nasty. No wonder Facebook constantly interrupts threads of debate with “Post Deleted.”
Staged minimally by Stuart Ross with the cast seated side by side until their turn at the mikes, then moving between straight chairs and music stands to read, the evening could not look simpler. But simplicity is deceptive. Standing on Ceremony holds a magnifying glass to the highs and lows, joys and fears, courage and silliness, of people bucking trends and making history. It’s a fine evening, heartily recommended.