Gay marriage:let us count the ways
by Richard Dodds
In the newspaper on the morning that Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays opened at New Conservatory Theatre Center, there was a wire story about the first couple to be married under Britain's new law permitting same-sex marriage. It was all balloons and confetti until the rainy final paragraph: "In Britain, some argue that true equality won't be reached until a gay couple can be married by a priest in Westminster Abbey, as Prince William and Kate Middleton were in 2011." Let's catch our breath first.
The train that left the station turned out not to be a local but an express. If you had started planning to present an evening of short plays written three years ago about same-sex marriage, the stops you may have wanted to visit may be just blurs in the window. Fortunately for Standing on Ceremony, the eight contributing playwrights were more interested in how same-sex couples in this country adapt to the opportunities for legally recognized marriage rather than in holding up placards demanding a right that had not yet begun to bloom.
The production opens and closes with playlets about vows, and how the couples look for new ways to express their commitment in words other than those attached to traditional marriage for as long as any of us can remember. In Jordan Harrison's light-hearted The Revision, partners Nate (Patrick Barresi) and Wallace (Scott Cox) are mockingly rewriting the words for their civil union in a state not yet aboard the marriage train. "For richer or for poorer," for example, becomes "through the rise and fall of our individualized trust portfolios." The title of the final playlet, Jose Rivera's tender but upbeat Pablo & Andrew at the Alter of Words, plays off the word "altar" as the marrying couple (movingly played by Sal Mattos and Cox) surprise each other with the depths of their words of commitment.
The contributing playwrights all have national reputations of varying degrees, and are often writing to the expectations of their reputations. Paul Rudnick (The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told) often skews to the outlandish, and My Husband and The Gay Agenda don't defy expectations. In the former, a quintessential Jewish mother (Heidi Wolff) is trying to get her gay son (Cox) hitched by impersonating him on gay dating sites. In the latter, Mary Abigail (a hilariously high-strung Colleen Egan) is her town's preeminent proponent of traditional marriage, but begins to hear voices in her head attacking all aspects of her heterosexual life. When her new gay neighbors (Cox and Mattos) visit her house, all she hears are decorating insults and suggestions that her husband wants to be anally penetrated. She even worries if the lumberjack on the Brawny Towels wrapper is gay.
On the other side of the rainbow spectrum is Moises Kaufman (The Laramie Project), who creates the most poignantly intense piece in the production. In London Mosquitoes, a curious title whose meaning eventually becomes clear, an older man (beautifully played by Barresi) is delivering the eulogy for his recently deceased partner of 46 years. The monologue weaves together details of a complex partnership, one that they decided not to commemorate with a legal marriage when that became possible near the end. Better to celebrate 46 years together than a one-year wedding anniversary.
Several of the pieces are pleasant, lightweight affairs. In Mo Gaffney's A Traditional Wedding, a lesbian couple (Egan and Katharine Chin) discuss the pros and cons of a hetero-style wedding ceremony. "Wanting a flower girl does not make me straight," insists the more traditional of the two. Cold feet are afflicting one of the two Portland women (Wolff and Chin) as they are about to board a flight to Iowa, where sex-same marriage got an early foothold, in Wendy MacLeod's genial This Flight Tonight. Playwright Neil LaBute, an expert at creating cynical, misogynistic characters, surprisingly shows up with the most manipulatively sentimental of all the pieces, Strange Fruit, although it's well played by Barresi and Mattos.
Sara Staley has efficiently and sensitively staged the multi-part production on Christian Majia's attractive, chapel-like unit set. After its SF run, the production will travel into the hinterlands as part of NCTC's Pride on Tour program.
Standing on Ceremony will run at NCTC through April 27. Tickets are $25-$45. Call 861-8972 or go to www.nctcsf.org.