Off Broadway Theater Review: STANDING ON CEREMONY: THE GAY WEDDING PLAYS (Minetta Lane Theatre)

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by Gary Larcan on November 18, 2011

in Theater-New York

THE FEEL GAY HIT OF THE SEASON

If you’re pro gay marriage, come see this show.  If you’re ambivalent on the topic, come see this show.  And if you’re against gay marriage, come see this show and gain insight from an evening full of laughs and lessons for all.

Collectively, this compilation of original one-act shorts reveals that marriage is not gay or straight but human–full of joy, stress, fear, compromise, expectations, and mostly love.  Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Wedding Plays explores this human event from the perspective of people formerly denied this tradition as they “make it up as they go along” with wit, courage, humor, and heart.

Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Wedding Plays – Off Broadway Theater Review by Gary LarcanThe very enjoyable evening, conceived by Brian Shnipper, features original one-acts from a super committee of A-List playwrights:  Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick, and Doug Wright (which collectively adds up to 2 Pulitzer Prizes, 4 Obie Awards, 1 Emmy and 3 Tony nominations). Director Stuart Ross leads an impressive cast each with a Tony and/or Emmy win or nomination to their credit:  Craig Bierko, Mark Consuelos, Polly Draper and Harriet Harris, Beth Leavel and Richard Thomas.  This fine ensemble of seasoned actors (all 40+) carries the weight of the fight for equality and the joy of finally winning the battle.

On a simple stage with an elegant swath of sparkling fabric cradled in two (wedding) rings, a pair of avant-garde wedding centerpieces rests against the back wall.  Six chairs and multiple music stands are used for the actors to read their scripts.  Standing On Ceremony is similar in style to the very successful The Vagina Monolouges:  name actors with script-in-hand readings with rotating casts.  Standing On Ceremony plans to rotate short plays as well.

With a play about gay people and weddings, one expects wit, humor, bawdiness, pop culture references, theatre jokes, style, and a certain gay panache.  Standing On Ceremony delivers that and more.  It does not attempt to convert the disbelievers, but instead is a celebration of all that comes with gay marriage.

Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Wedding Plays – Off Broadway Theater Review by Gary LarcanIn “The Revision,” by Jordan Harrison, two men (Mr.Thomas and Mr. Bierko) adapt their vows to represent what a same sex marriage contract actually means, with unique and limited legal rights.  In Wendy MacLeod’s very funny “This Flight Tonight,” Ms. Draper and Ms. Leavel mine great humor and humanity as they prepare to board a flight from New York to their wedding in Iowa. Ms. Leavel manages a lovingly aggressive trepidation.  Doug Wright adapted an actual Facebook thread in “On Facebook.”  The play is loyal to the online thread, which sacrifices more well-developed characters.  In “Strange Fruit,” Neil LaBute is unmistakably Neil LaBute with his funny, naughty, shocking perspective.  Mr. Bierko seems to find pleasure in this world.

There was a moment of palpable discomfort in the audience at the beginning of Paul Rudnick’s “The Gay Agenda.”  A straight female member of Focus on the Family (one of many right-wing “family” organizations) launches into an impassioned attack on the homosexual lifestyle with “love” for the sinner but not the sin.  She is shocked when she is haunted by a “gay voice” that keeps her in check.  Luckily, the role is in the capable hands of Rudnick veteran Harriet Harris, who walks the fine line of condemnation and manic self-discovery as the play explodes into hilarity.

Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Wedding Plays – Off Broadway Theater Review by Gary LarcanWe meet a lesbian couple with a unique wedding in Mo Gaffney’s “Traditional Wedding.”  The brides choose to have their officiant announce, “You may now kiss the broom” as they combined bride and groom.  They even chose two brooms atop their wedding cake.  In Paul Rudnick’s “My Husband,” Ms. Harris plays a competitive Jewish mother who imagines an extravagant wedding for her son (Mr. Consuelos).  Mother/gay son relationships become universal when Mom asks, “When are you going to get married?”  As it turns out, mothers of gay children want the same things that parents of straight children want:  bragging rights, a fabulous wedding, and grandchildren.

In “London Mosquitoes,” Moisés Kaufman hits the bull’s-eye, right into the heart.  In the most moving piece of the evening, Richard Thomas, with a heart-breaking, heart-swelling performance, plays part of a long-term couple.  When marriage became possible after being together 45 years, his partner argued, “So we’ll celebrate our first anniversary after 46 years?  What were the other 45 years–just fooling around?”  He also shares the secret to a long relationship, “Have a large apartment, and know when to leave the room.”  Kaufman’s glorious language ties the evening (and the struggle) together–like the London mosquitoes, to survive and thrive, you have to evolve.  This play, this program, shows that, as a species, we are evolving.

We get a wedding as the evening concludes with “Pablo and Andrew at the Altar of Words,” a touching, romantic piece by José Rivera with beautiful acting from Mr. Bierko and Mr. Consuelos as they share their very original, poetic wedding vows that include promising “a bed full of explanation points.”

Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Wedding Plays – Off Broadway Theater Review by Gary LarcanGays and lesbians have won the right to obsess over vows, cakes, and in-laws–even the right to be a widow.  There’s no infidelity or divorce in this opening round of one-acts, but as the material and casts evolve, who knows?  Perhaps they will eventually include openly gay actors as well.

Standing On Ceremony should have a long and healthy run.  Just like a wedding, that public celebration of a couples’ love, Standing On Ceremony:  The Gay Wedding Plays celebrates, in public, the civil right of gays and lesbians to celebrate their love.  Mazel tov to the brooms!

Note:  The production is partnering with Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage nationwide, and will donate a portion of all ticket sales to that organization, as well as others promoting marriage equality.

Standing On Ceremony:  The Gay Wedding Plays
Minetta Lane Theatre
open run
for tickets, visit http://www.standingonceremony.net

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