A rotating cast of Hollywood celebrities. Eight or nine short plays by some of the country’s finest playwrights. Tons of laughs and more than a few tears. And all this to promote the cause of marriage equality. What progressive theatergoer could pass up a chance like this?

Certainly not this one. I loved every single minute of a recent preview of Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, soon to be playing selected Mondays at the The Renberg Theatre. There’s truly not another show like it in town.

Peri Gilpin, Richard Kind, Wendie Malick, Kathy Najimy, Jack Plotnick, Jean Smart, and James Patrick Stuart were the TV/stage stars most recently assembled to read aloud plays by (among others) Jeffrey Hatcher, Moisés Kaufman, and Paul Rudnick—making for one fabulous celebration of love and equality.

Jordan Harrison’s The Revision, featured Kind and Plotnick as a gay couple busy revising traditional wedding vows to fit a same-sex union, with Plotnick suggesting “I take you to be my lawfully civil-unioned or domestic-partnered partner” as more appropriate to their “non-marriage.”

This Flight Tonight, by Wendy MacLeod, had Gilpin and Malick getting ready to board a flight to the land of legal gay marriage (aka Iowa), with Gilpin freaking at the thought of visiting Des Moines (who in their right mind plans a trip to Des Moines?) and worrying about how marriage will change their coupledom. (“After this Saturday it’s going to be monogamy, monogamy, monogamy!”)

Gilpin, Kind, Malick, Plotnick, Smart, and Stuart joined forces for Doug Wright’s On Facebook, an adaptation of an actual Facebook thread which starts with a seemingly harmless status update, then ascends quickly into flame war territory when Malick, as a socially conservative childhood friend of the poster, begins expressing her “opinions” about gay marriage to a mostly unreceptive group of Facebookers. The few audience members not on The Social Network were probably the only ones not rolling with laughter at the potpourri of smiley faces and private messages and Press Likes.

Najimy entered next to a roar of applause to perform her self-penned solo piece Outlaw Wedding, a East Coaster’s phone call with friend Carol following the pair of weddings she has recently attended. First was straight gal Linda’s 3rd marriage. (“The bride wore black and blue” and had her wedding and reception in the driveway—again.) Then came the “fake outlaw wedding” of Carol’s favorite nephew Michael to his lover of nine years. (“That’s the term. ‘Lover,’” she tells us, as if revealing a precious secret.) Over the course of this alternately hilarious and moving monolog, Michael’s aunt reveals the radical change of heart she’s had vis-à-vis gay marriage after seeing Michael made persona non grata by his previous lover’s family upon his death from AIDS. On a brighter note, Najimy has penned the best possible response to anyone who doesn’t “approve” of gay sex. “You don’t approve of gay sex … don’t have some.”

Hatcher’s White Marriage featured Gilpin as a woman married to a man (Stuart) whose gay sense of humor has gotten her to wondering if maybe, just maybe… Later, when young son Eric picks Death Of A Salesman’s Willy Loman as his Halloween costume, Gilpin begins to question whether there are any heterosexual males in her life.

Smart got the evening’s second solo piece, the always fabulous Rudnick’s The Gay Agenda, in the role of an All American homemaker, Board Of Education secretary, and member of Focus On The Family and Fuck With The Family And You Die, to name just two of the many “traditional values” groups she’s joined. Though Smart’s character declares, “I don’t hate anyone,” she has come to the conclusion that “Gay people should not be allowed to get married. Ever!” Now if only she could stop hearing that bitchy, relentless (i.e. gay) voice inside her head whenever she talks to either one of the gay couple next door. (When one of them complimented her on her living room décor, that “Gay Agenda” voice piped in with “This is where Betty Crocker shot herself.”)

The very heterosexual Labute has penned the alternately hilarious and devastating “Strange Fruit,” which starred Plotnick and Stuart as two very different gay men who ended up in love. While Plotnick knew from the moment he discovered the Hardy Boys—and Parker Stevenson—that he was gay, it took Stuart (who dated women and was married to one for six years) a good deal longer to realize that, “I love cock!” Somehow the twosome became a couple and following a spur-of the-moment proposal, they travel to California to take advantage of the window that opened briefly in 2008. Laughter turns gradually to tears of shock and horror as it slowly becomes clear that something terrible happened in California.

The Laramie Project’s Kaufman’s contribution is London Mosquitoes, a eulogy given by Paul, the surviving member of a 46-year union (Kind at the performance reviewed), in memory of Bob, whom he met in college the day John F. Kennedy was shot. The two quickly bonded, double dated (with girls), but in the privacy of their dorm rooms, “messed around…but we never talked about it.” And then a year later…a kiss, and from then on there was no more pretending. Kaufman’s powerful piece makes for a living history of the last half century of gay history, with Kind giving a truly bravura performance.

Finally, there was Pablo And Andrew At The Altar Of Words, with Plotnick and Stuart tying the knot, Gilpin, Kind, Malick, and Smart serving as witnesses to their nuptials—followed by great big pieces of wedding cake served in the courtyard lobby.

It’s hard to imagine better readings of the nine plays than those given by the stellar ensemble reviewed above, whose weekly TV appearances (Gilpen’s many years on Frasier and Smart’s on Designing Women, to name just two) make Standing On Ceremony feel at times like a reunion with cherished friends.

All but Najimy’s piece recur with different performers attached, Najimy’s subject to her availability.

Director Brian Shnipper, who conceived Standing On Ceremony in association with Allain Rochel and Stuart Ross, shares kudos for the cast’s uniformly fine work. Standing On Ceremony is presented by Joan Stein and Ross. Rochel is associate producer and Sara Adelman stage manager.

Past performances of The Gay Marriage Plays have starred (among others) Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Bradley Whitford, Jason Alexander, Camryn Manheim—and how’s that for talent? With stellar lineups like the one reviewed here, future audiences are in for one Monday after another of fabulous all-star entertainment.

–Steven Stanley
March 28, 2011

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