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Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays

This highly entertaining collection of short works approaches its subject with a combination of heart and humor.

Harriet Harris and Craig Bierko
in Standing on Ceremony
(© Joan Marcus)
The passage of same-sex marriage rights in New York earlier this year has further fueled the national debate over the subject of marriage equality. And so the Off-Broadway premiere of the highly entertaining collection of short works, Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, at the Minetta Lane Theatre, seems particularly well-timed.

There isn't really an attempt to provide a balanced viewpoint on the issue, as the performance as a whole is unapologetically celebratory of gay marriage. Conceived by Brian Shnipper and directed by Stuart Ross, Standing on Ceremony is presented in a rehearsed staged reading format similar to that of The Vagina Monologues or Love, Loss, and What I Wore, and seems designed to allow rotating celebrity casts to take part in much the same way as those two shows.

The initial line-up of performers consists of Craig Bierko, Mark Consuelos, Polly Draper, Harriet Harris, Beth Leavel, and Richard Thomas. The performance I attended featured works from playwrights Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick, and Doug Wright, although there are additional playwrights whose works will be incorporated into the run at a later date.

The highlight of the current offerings is "The Gay Agenda," written by Rudnick and performed primarily by Harris as a conservative woman in Ohio who outlines her reasons why she is opposed to gay marriage. Rudnick is at his satirical best in the piece, while Harris is delivering a master class in comedy. Not only does she get maximum mileage out of Rudnick's very funny words, she induces laughter with mere vocal inflections and facial expressions that grow increasingly manic.

Thomas delivers a standout performance in Kaufman's monologue, "London Mosquitoes," which proves to be the most moving segment of the evening, as well as the most complex. In it, a man eulogizes his recently deceased partner whom he did not marry, even though it was now legal for them to do so. Their decision not to wed was certainly not out of a lack of affection or commitment. Rather, they had already been together for decades, and if they got married, it seemed as if it would erase their history together, as they would have to start over in the counting of anniversaries.

Draper and Leavel play two different couples in works by MacLeod and Gaffney. They have a palpable chemistry, and are particularly funny in MacLeod's piece, "This Flight Tonight," in which a lesbian couple is getting ready to fly from California to Iowa to get married. One of them is getting cold feet just as their flight is boarding, prompting a brief yet poignant exploration of their relationship and how getting married might change things between the two women.

LaBute's "Strange Fruit" features Bierko and Consuelos as a gay couple from Chicago who travel to San Diego during the narrow window of opportunity when same-sex couples in California were allowed to legally wed. The actors deliver their lines in overlapping monologues, and are able to convey the love their characters have for each other. As might be expected of LaBute, there's a twist to this particular story (albeit one that some audience members will likely find predictable).

The entire company gets involved in Wright's entry, "On Facebook," which purports to detail an actual Facebook exchange that took place following the state of Maine's overturning of its gay marriage law. The work perhaps too easily vilifies a conservative Christian woman (played histrionically by Leavel), but is nevertheless amusing.

Interestingly, the performance begins and ends with pieces focusing on the construction of wedding vows. In Harrison's "The Revision," Bierko and Thomas perform in a pointed critique of the inequities that gay couples wishing to formalize their commitment to one another face within states that do not allow gay marriage. And in the final piece, Rivera's "Pablo & Andrew at the Altar of Words," Bierko and Consuelos portray a couple expressing in their own language the words that will cement their relationship.

The final piece is admittedly a bit treacly, and indeed nearly all of the short works within the show have a tendency towards sentimentality. However, they're also a lot of fun to watch, as both playwrights and performers approach the subject of same-sex marriage with a combination of heart and humor.