Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays is back—in a terrific new venue and featuring a hilarious newcomer to its roster of one acts. What hasn’t changed is the excitement of both its concept and its execution.

As always, audiences are treated to a rotating lineup of Hollywood celebrities taking turns reading a program of short plays by some of the country’s finest playwrights, thereby guaranteeing tons of laughs and more than a few tears— with a portion of your ticket going towards the Vote For Equality program at the L.A. Gay And Lesbian Center. What progressive theatergoer could pass up a chance like this?

Bill Brochtrup, John Glover, Julie Haggerty, Rachael Harris, Jane Kaczmarek, and Paul McCrane 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 Brochtrup and McCrane as a gay couple busy revising traditional wedding vows to fit a same-sex union, with stickler McCrane insisting on “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 Harris and Kaczmarek getting ready to board a flight to the land of legal gay marriage (aka Iowa), with Harris 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!”)

The entire cast 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 Beverly (Kaczmarek), a socially conservative childhood classmate 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.

Hatcher’s White Marriage featured Kaczmarek as a woman married to a man (McCrane) 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, Kaczmarek begins to question whether there are any heterosexual males in her life.

Next up was Joe Keenan’s This Marriage Is Saved, new to this reviewer, and one of the evening’s biggest laugh-getters. The marriage in question is that of a conservative Christian preacher (Glover) caught in a compromising position with 19-year-old rentboy Randy Poulet, now being interviewed by telejournalist Brochtrup a year post-scandal alongside his oh-so understanding wife (Harris). On a promotional tour for his newly published Now I Only Kneel When I Pray, the reverend insists that he truly believed Who’ was an adoption site, and that any hankering he has for men is “less of a betrayal” to his wife “and more of a shared interest.” As for the couple’s sex life, the Missus declares, “He gives me so much foreplay I just fall asleep, too tired for the main event.” Sounds like the perfect gay marriage, i.e. one “between a man who thinks he’s gay and a woman who knows he’s not.” (Her words, not mine.)

The very heterosexual Labute has penned the alternately hilarious and devastating “Strange Fruit,” which starred McCrane and Brochtrup as two very different gay men who ended up in love. While Brochtrup knew from the moment he discovered the Hardy Boys—and Parker Stevenson—that he was gay, it took McCrane (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.

Reprising the clueless persona that has been her trademark since Airplane, Haggerty got the evening’s second solo piece, 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 Haggerty’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 Laramie Project’s Kaufman’s contribution was London Mosquitoes, a eulogy given by Paul, the surviving member of a 46-year union (Gover 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 Glover giving every bit the bravura performance that Richard Kind gave on a previous Monday.

Finally, there was Pablo And Andrew At The Altar Of Words, with Brochrup and McCrane tying the knot, Glover, Haggerty, Harris, and Kaczmarek serving as witnesses to their nuptials—followed by great big pieces of wedding cake served outdoors in the expansive Village patio.

Standing On Ceremony’s new venue, the Gay And Lesbian Center’s Renberg Theatre, makes for an even more welcoming setting than the previous Coronet, the show’s uncredited set design providing a gorgeous backdrop to the plays, performed on book in front of music stands (though most of the cast seemed scarcely to be looking at their scripts).

It’s hard to imagine better readings of the nine plays than those given by the stellar ensemble reviewed above, whose weekly TV appearances (Kaczmarek’s seven seasons on Malcolm In The Middle and Brochtrup’s seven on NYPD Blue) make Standing On Ceremony feel at times like a reunion with cherished friends.

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.

With casts like the one reviewed here or the upcoming June 6th cast—Jillian Armenante (Judging Amy), Wendie Malick (Hot In Cleveland) , Jack Plotnick (Reno 911), Kurtwood Smith (That ’70s Show), James Patrick Stuart (It’s Complicated), and Nicole Sullivan (MADtv), future audiences are guaranteed one Monday after another of fabulous all-star entertainment.

The Renberg Theatre, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles.
–Steven Stanley
May 23, 2011
Photos: Chuck Green

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