Review: ‘Standing on Ceremony—The Gay Marriage Plays’ at New Conservatory Theatre Center (***)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: ***)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Standing On Ceremony—The Gay Marriage Plays” continues at New Conservatory Theatre Center through April 27, 2014.)

With gay marriage increasingly legal and even commonplace in some communities, it is no surprise that New Conservatory Theatre Center, one of San Francisco’s premiere theatre organizations for the gay community, would want to address it on stage. It was Brian Schnipper’s excellent idea to solicit short plays from a number of established playwrights to create a full evening of theatre on this subject.

While this sort of  thematic idea sounds good, such politically themed theatre-by-committee experiments tend to be too polemical in execution, just preaching to the converted. For much of the evening, that is the problem with “Standing On Ceremony”.

But Paul Rudnick and Moisés Kaufman save the day.

Paul Rudnick offers two polished comedies. “My Husband” has great over-the-top fun with a stereotypical Jewish mother (Hedi Wolff) outrageously trying to marry off her gay son to the right guy. Even funnier is “The Gay Agenda” which satirizes a middle American Christian housewife type (an hilarious Colleen Egan) who is obsessed with the idea that gays are destroying her life.

The cast “Standing On Ceremony” (from l to r): Heidi Wolff, Patrick Barresi, Sal Mattos, Scott Cox, Colleen Egan, Katharine Chin. Photo Credit: New Conservatory Theatre Center.
The cast of “Standing On Ceremony” (from l to r): Heidi Wolff, Patrick Barresi, Sal Mattos, Scott Cox, Colleen Egan, Katharine Chin. Photo Credit: New Conservatory Theatre Center.

The highlight of the evening, by far, is the wonderful “London Mosquitoes” by Moisés Kaufman. Kaufman’s one-person play is a eulogy presented by an elderly Jewish man on the death of his male partner after 46 years together. The eulogy reflects on their long relationship and their choice not to get legally married when it became possible late in their shared life. What would that say, they wondered, about the years before they were legal? The long monologue touches movingly on AIDS, 9/11, family, intimacy, and many other subjects. The two men, eulogist and deceased, are given beautiful, in-depth characterizations. Patrick Barresi gives a moving, tour de force performance.

For further information, click here.

“Standing On Ceremony—The Gay Marriage Plays” written by Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Neil LaBute, Wendy Macleod, Jose Rivera, Paul Rudnick and Doug Wright. Conceived by Brian Shnipper. Directed: Sara Staley. Scenic and lighting design: Christian Mejia. Costume Design: Emily White. Sound Design: Billie Cox.

Ensemble: Patrick Barresi, Katherine Chin, Scott Cox, Colleen Egan, Sal Mattos, Heidi Wolff.

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