Heading into the new play written by an “A-list lineup of writers with 2 Pulitzer Prizes, 4 Obies, 1 Emmy® and 3 Tony® nominations” I expected that the evening would make me laugh … but not till my sides hurt. I expected to be moved … but not to tears. Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays manages to take a controversial topic and give it a 360; some aspects are made endearingly simple yet never does this show shy away from the frustration and confusion that the issue of gay marriage brings with it. What Standing On Ceremony does so elegantly is show how gay marriage is just as easy as, just as complicated as, just as worthy as, just as demanding as, just the same as, and completely different from straight marriage. There are no two marriages on this earth that are the same because there are as many ways to live on this earth as there are human beings. The two people who join their lives together define what makes the union – the two personalities melding together will create the new whole. Gay, straight – these issue and roadblocks, these milestones and hurdles are to be celebrated together. That is what defines a marriage. Standing On Ceremony explores this brilliantly.
Ultimately there will be a revolving cast with writers offering up different material so your experience may vary. Currently the show is featuring ‘The Revision‘ by Jordan Harrison, ‘This Flight Tonight‘ by Wendy MacLeod, ‘On Facebook‘ by Doug Wright, ‘My Husband‘ by Paul Rudnick,’Traditional Wedding‘ by Mo Gaffney, ‘Strange Fruit‘ by Neil LaBute, ‘The Gay Agenda‘ by Paul Rudnick, ‘London Mosquitoes‘ by Moisés Kaufman and ‘Pablo and Andrew at the Altar of Words‘ by Jose Rivera.
Conceived by Brian Shnipper and directed deftly by Stuart Ross, Standing On Ceremony couldn’t be more robust. The bookend plays both deal with the biggest lynchpin of the wedding: the vows. The first offering – Harrison’s The Revision - finds Craig Bierko and Richard Thomas hammering out a way to best use words that will reflect their union. It playfully pokes at how each line must be revised in order to correctly and accurately communicate the event (I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband turns into my domestically partnered partner). Conversely, the final play of the evening – Rivera’s Pablo and Andrew at the Altar of Words - simply allows the joy, the giddiness and the love to wash over the couple (Bierko and Mark Consuelos) and their friends (I want to lie with you in a bed of exclamation points). It is a beautiful way to end a show which, in between, shines a light into every dark corner of the issue.
Particularly hilarious is Harriet Harris, although this comes as no surprise. She is deliciously devilish as she plays both ends of the argument – in one short The Gay Agenda (written by Paul Rudnick) she plays Mary Abigail Carstairs-Sweetbuckle who is a staunch Right Wing Conservative. When attempting to welcome her gay neighbors to the community, she finds that a small gay voice has taken up residence in her head. (How did I know it was gay? Because it was bitchy!) Suddenly she is seeing gay people everywhere, in everything. Her nagging doubt leads to full blown hysteria that is as funny as it is maniacal.
Later in Rudnick’s second offering, My Husband, Harris comes off winningly again – and once more hilarious – as Gabrielle Finkelstein – a liberal and progressive New York mother who, in the race to keep up with her friends, bemoans her gay son Michael’s single status as she watches all her other friends marry off their gay children in lavish ceremonies. (One such extravaganza had the rabbi flown in from the ceiling on a blazing chariot. “Who was the wedding planner?“ “Julie Taymor“). Michael (Mark Consuelos) reflects the exasperation of every unmarried child (gay or straight) … half wishing they could give their mother what she wants, half wishing she would just back off.
Wendy MacLeod’s This Flight Tonight and Mo Gaffney’s Traditional Wedding both pair Polly Draper and Beth Leavel who are beautiful to watch together. They have a chemistry, an ease and a natural physicality together which underscores their believability as a couple. Both plays deal with the pre-wedding jitters that can fall on a couple even after they’ve been together a long time, underscoring the fact that there’s a difference between living together as a unit and actually having that piece of paper that says you’re bound and committed to each other for the rest of your life.
On Facebook by Doug Wright unites the whole cast in a dramatization of an actual Facebook-Post-gone-mad. While possibly the least creative of the works it is also the most reflective of the times. What begins as a “let’s just agree to disagree (Smiley face!)” type exchange slowly escalates into a heated debate on the use of the word “marriage” and what it actually stands for. Ultimately the woman who is against gay marriage — or at least the use of the word “marriage” to describe a gay union — turns out to be divorced. When that irony is pointed out to her she storms off in a virtual huff.
Throughout all the laughter of the evening there were two stirring, thoughtful, emotional pieces which acted as a reminder of how far the movement has come — and how far it has still to go. Neil LaBute’s Strange Fruit takes two monologues and intertwines them; Craig Bierko and Mark Consuelos discuss meeting, falling in love, starting their relationship, deciding to marry. Their current of words moving, melding, combining until the moment when it all doesn’t quite go as planned. As you begin to see what is happening it’s like the breath is being squeezed out of you. Bierko and Consuelos are astonishing in this one.
Moises Kaufman’s London Mosquitoes is perhaps the biggest gem of all. Richard Thomas is Joe, who has lost his partner of 46 years and now stands at his memorial attempting to eulogize not only Paul, the man, but also attempting to color in the different shades of their life together. He starts from the beginning when what they did went unmentioned … when they didn’t even have a name for what they were doing. He moves on to the middle of their life together – when the AIDS epidemic swept through and took all their friends … not some, but all. He winds through the decades of their life together that saw the towers fall; just blocks away that day he and Paul stood, watching. People plummeted to their deaths and the crowd below screamed and turned away. But not Paul. “Someone needs to bear witness to their death,” he said. “I need to witness“. We see this man who is no longer alive as more vibrant because of how Joe witnessed him. In a heartbreaking moment Joe explains why Paul didn’t want to get married – what would that mean for the last 45 years of their life together? What would that have been? London Mosquitoes covers themes of love, hope, secrecy, passion, despair, loss, silence, and triumph – tying in tragedies both great and small, spiritual, profound, personal and universal. It is an utterly breathtaking, heartbreaking piece that honors in death as it also reverberates with celebration of life.
If there’s a viewpoint to be found regarding the issue of gay marriage you’ll find it in Standing On Ceremony. Each opinion is handled with truth, raw emotion, tears of joy, tears of pain, and nods of recognition. For a topic that deserves to be discussed, debated, written about, mulled over and one day agreed upon, this is the perfect place for the discussion to begin.
~~~STANDING ON CEREMONYThe Gay Marriage Plays
Short plays by Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, Jose Rivera, Paul Rudnick and Doug Wright
Conceived by Brian Shnipper
Directed by Stuart RossStarring Craig Bierko, Mark Consuelos, Polly Draper, Harriet Harris, Beth Leavel and Richard Thomas Minetta Lane Theatre 18 Minetta Lane New York , NY 10012 Click Here for tickets
‘Standing on Ceremony’ will donate a portion of all ticket sales to Freedom to Marry and other organizations promoting marriage equality.