Overtly political plays tend to be preachy, and getting a dose of nine of them in one sitting doesn't sound like an entertaining proposition. But "Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays" turns those assumptions on their head.
This collection of mini pro-gay marriage plays that opened Sunday off-Broadway at the intimate Minetta Lane Theatre was funny and moving and as varied as the different playwrights, which include Paul Rudnick, Neil LaBute and Doug Wright.
From a humorous rewriting of the traditional marriage vows for a gay couple to the dramatization of a real-life argument on Facebook to a play about anti-gay violence to one in which a couple grapples with the new reality of homosexual marriage, the pieces are each smartly written and, since they can only run about 10 minutes, have absolutely no padding.
The six actors, who play multiple parts, are Beth Leavel ("The Drowsy Chaperone"), Richard Thomas ("Race") , Craig Bierko ("The Music Man"), Mark Consuelos ("All My Children"), Polly Draper ("thirtysomething") and Harriet Harris ("Thoroughly Modern Millie"). Although they read from binders, all six are fully engaged and work well together.
Stuart Ross directs with effective speed _ he has only about 90-intermissionless minutes to include all the works _ and keeps mixing tones and subjects to unite the plays into an engaging whole. Nine playwrights have offered works and the line-up is subject to change.
One recent preview performance had eight writers represented, including two standout pieces by Rudnick _ both making excellent use of Harris' ability to play oddball, slightly crazed women. In one, "The Gay Agenda," Rudnick creates the anti-gay marriage activist, Mary Abigail Carstairs-Sweetbuckle, who reveals her own bigotry, though insists, "I don't hate anyone."
His other play is "My Husband," in which the pressure many mothers put on their straight children to get marry put on a gay son now that same-sex unions are legal. Wright offers a play based on an actual Facebook argument among those on either side of the pro- and anti- gay marriage divide (including hysterical reproductions of the use of emoticons, such as a "Smiley face" after a nasty post).
LaBute's "Strange Fruit" is the most crude and angry of the works, but his story about a love affair torn apart by ant-gay violence is beautifully realized and deeply honest. Wendy MacLeod's "This Flight Tonight" about a lesbian couple revealing their insecurities at the airport before flying to Iowa for their wedding, is universal and real.
The most haunting play is Moises Kaufman's deeply moving "London Mosquitos," a poignant eulogy from a lover that counter-intuitively explores some of the things lost in the fight for equality. It brought Thomas, who delivered the monologue, and many in the audience, to tears.
"We're always gaining things. Small and large victories," Kaufman writes. "But each triumph has a price. We get AIDS medications, but our fighting spirit ceases to soar. We get to come out of the closet, but we lose the delicious clandestine habits of the past, we get `marriage' but we lose the rigor of inventing our own unions."
The stage is decorated by Sarah Zeitler like a wedding venue, with an elaborate flower display, votive candles and a huge swath of silvery fabric overhead. A portion of all ticket sales to "Standing on Ceremony" will be donated to Freedom to Marry and other organizations promoting marriage equality.
While the playwrights and the actors are clearly preaching to the converted, no one is phoning it in.