By Bill Hirschman
As the two men eloquently pledge their lives and their loves to each other in the moving vows that close Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, theater reasserts its power to underscore the common humanity that transcends differences even as we treasure and celebrate those differences.
That may be hifalutin’ sentiments for City Theatre’s anthology of nine quirky skits, most quite funny, that look at the newly-minted phenomenon in a brief run through Sunday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
But while the playlets by an array of award-winning playwrights all have a declared social agenda, all highlight the cross-sexuality glories of love, the vagaries of maintaining relationships, the verities of constancy, integrity and tradition.
The anthology that has played around the country for two years usually benefits an organization supporting marriage equality. A portion of all proceeds from this edition will be donated to Equality Florida, which bills itself as the largest civil rights organization in Florida dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
This production is really just a staged reading, benefiting from a few more rehearsals than usual with actors frequently referring to scripts in loose-leaf notebooks. But most of the personnel here are skilled enough to produce a satisfying professional evening: City Theatre Producing Artistic Director John Manzelli directed headliners Bruce Vilanch , the six-time Emmy winner and head writer for the Oscars, and Bryan Batt, a theater veteran best known as Salvatore Romano on TV’s Mad Men. Getting equal stage time are actors from City Theatre’s Summer Shorts programs, Steve Trovillion, Elizabeth Dimon and Elena Maria Garcia, as well as Christopher De Paola, plus Elizabeth Price alternating some evenings with chanteuse Nicole Henry.
The more overtly political skits are preaching directly to the gay men’s choir such as Craig Wright’s (I Am My Own Wife) edited transcript of a virulent debate on gay marriage that he instigated On Facebook. Only some heavy lifting by comic actress Garcia softened the one-dimensional feel of the piece.
But most take a softer and more effective slant such as Dimon’s hilarious depiction of a conservative Ohio housewife whose equilibrium is unhinged when she hears a caustic “gay” voice in her head as she interacts with a couple in The Gay Agenda by Paul Rudnick (Jeffrey, I Hate Hamlet, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told). She becomes increasingly upset by the “incursions” of gay life such as all the sassy wisecracking sidekicks to women characters on sitcoms being gay men. “It’s taking jobs from black women!” she wails.
The high point was Batt’s performance of Moises Kaufman’s (The Laramie Project) affecting London Mosquitos, a surprisingly uplifting eulogy by a man in his late 50s, memorializing the intelligence and courage of his beloved long-time companion who died of cancer.
The Revision by Jordan Harrison peeked in on a man (Batt) insisting on changes to the wording of the vows written by his partner (Trovillion), such as wanting to change the phrase “in sickness and health” since health care differs for domestic partners depending on insurance carriers.
The Flight Tonight by Wendy MacLeod examines the very familiar pre-wedding jitters of two California lesbians (Garcia and Price) preparing to leave on a plane trip to Iowa where they can be married.
The evening takes a sobering turn in Neil LaBute’s Strange Fruit as two recently married men (Batt and Vilanch) recount the aftermath of their union that echoes the Billie Holiday number.
But the message is usually delivered with a bit of humor. In A Traditional Wedding by Mo Gaffney, one of the first lesbian couples to get married (Dimon and Price) go on a TV talk show to talk about all the predictable aspects of the event including food and dresses. But one says, “Someday we’ll be able to be just as bad at marriage as straight folks and that’s when we’ll know we’ve achieved equality.”
Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays runs through Sunday at the Amaturo Theatre at the Broward Center for the Performing, 201 SW Fifth Avenue, Fort Lauderdale. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $35 to $45. Call (954) 462-0222 or visit www.BrowardCenter.org.