There’s history behind “Standing on Ceremony: the Gay Marriage Plays,” a feel-good show celebrating gay marriage. Brian Shnipper had the original brainstorm for this engaging anthology of 10-minute “microplays,” commissioned from known scribes like Paul Rudnick, Doug Wright, Mo Gaffney, and Moises Kaufman and given staged readings by a rotating roster of actors. After playing one-night benefit perfs in Los Angeles and other cities, show has polished up nicely for this Off-Bway debut helmed by Stuart Ross. With proper maintenance it should be able to sit down for an indefinite run.
The unifying theme of same-sex marriage gives this collection of short plays and monologues its strong identity. But being the work of several scribes and performed on a flexible repertory schedule, the individual plays don’t share the same perspective or speak in the same voice. Which keeps things interesting.
Take the matter of the formal marriage ceremony itself. In “A Traditional Wedding,” Mo Gaffney takes an amused, but sympathetic view of a lesbian couple (played with warming humor by Polly Draper and Beth Leavel) who try to observe a few ritual conventions at their nuptials and wind up hiring a wedding planner and having a three-ring circus.
Jordan Harrison takes a different slant on the same subject in “The Revision.” In an earnest effort to re-write the traditional marriage vows to reflect the more sober realities of their own situation, two grooms (the extremely watchable Craig Bierko and Richard Thomas) end up pledging their troth “in the eyes of God and the ever-shifting whims of state and federal constitutional law.”
Although both plays are meant to amuse, they make the same serious point: that gay marriage is without precedent, and, for better or worse, partners who marry are de facto creating their own traditions.
In “London Mosquitoes,” Moises Kaufman goes so far as to question the very concept of a gay marriage ceremony. In delivering a moving eulogy for his partner, a grieving man (beautifully played by Richard Thomas) explains that they never married because their long and faithful union of 46 years needed no formal contract to validate it.
Looking beyond the ceremony itself, some scribes present humorous accounts of how the right to marry has created unexpected social and political pitfalls for gay couples. The two funniest plays on that subject were both written by Paul Rudnick and are performed with great comic gusto by Harriet Harris.
In “My Husband,” Harris (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”) gives an antic performance as an aggressively loving mother who is desperate for her gay son (Mark Consuelos) to marry, so she won’t be outdone by her friends. Harris is also a riot in “The Gay Agenda” as Mary Elizabeth Carstairs-Sweetbuckle, a conservative lady who tries to be more open-minded than her husband (who likes to say that Satan created gay people as a crafts project), but becomes convinced that gays are taking over the world.
The strong local appeal, along with the low-cost no-frills staging, the promise of a constant supply of fresh material, and the option of drawing from the local talent pool to replenish the repertory ensemble all suggest that the show has legs.