Following the 2011 decision by the New York state legislature to legalise the granting of marriage licenses to same sex couples, Brian Schnipper conceived Standing On Ceremony, a collection of short plays and monologues about gay marriage. Perspectives on the celebration of, objection to, and even competitive nature of same sex weddings are all part of this funny anthology, written by an assemblage of some of Broadway’s best writers.
The original production was essentially a staged reading, with the ensemble of actors remaining on stage throughout and working from scripts on stands. This Australian production is however fully realised by directors Helen Ellis, Wayne Pearn and Russell Fletcher to excellent effect. With a projected backdrop wall which is symbolically broken down as the show progresses and an onstage ‘wedding band’ to set the scene and keep the mood swinging throughout.
This metaphorical wedding album begins with a couple of quietly amusing reflections on gay marriage preparations. In ‘The Revision’, Spencer McLaren and Brett Whittingham debate the legal correctness of their proposed marriage vows, while in ‘This Flight Tonight’, Pia Miranda and Olivia Hogan prepare to board a flight from California (a state where gay marriage laws were actually legalised and then repealed) to Iowa, in order to marry.
Things start to get some comedic pace as Paul Rudnick’s hilariously written ‘The Gay Agenda’ has Helen Ellis (directed here by Pearn) satirising a right-wing defender of the institution of marriage and member of the “Aryan Family Freedom Fighters”. As she expresses the concerns she has regarding the gay neighbours that have ‘infiltrated’ her community she manically devolves into an hysterical rant that exposes some of the evening’s best and most outrageous one-liners.
This is quickly followed on the heels by a cunning parody of a social media thread ‘On Facebook’, written by the brilliant Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife, Grey Gardens) and directed skilfully by Justin Stephens. Pia Miranda does an ingenious turn as an odious republican who defends her rights to feel gay marriage is wrong simply because she ‘has gay friends’.
Chronicler of the ugly-side of human nature, Neil LaBute brings his trademark style to ‘Strange Fruit’ as McLaren and Whitttingham this time play a couple for whom having tied the knot doesn’t bring the kind of joy expected. The pair create a beautifully moving scene, aided by strong direction from Pearn and lighting design from Scott Allan.
Hogan and Miranda pair up again in ‘Traditional Wedding’ to give a masterclass in naturalistic performance, playing a long-married couple who charmingly recollect their wedding day. Then Ellis returns to the stage in ‘My Husband’, this time as an outrageous Jewish mother willing to do anything to beat all the other New York mothers to marry off her son, Luke Jacka, in the most spectacular of fashions. Ellis relishes Rudnick’s second script contribution, but stumbles somewhat, stealing pace from dialogue that feeds on rapid-fire delivery.
Michael Veitch finally gets the opportunity to show why he’s involved, with the stunningly written Moises Kaufman (The Laramie Project) monologue ‘London Mosquitos’. In this eulogy, Kaufman demonstrates why for many gay couples marriage would make their relationship mean less than what it does without an official sanction. Veitch has all the subtlety required to pull off this beautifully moving speech and hits his notes perfectly in this penultimate scene.
‘Andew and Pablo at the Alter of Words’ is the ceremony that finishes the production as Jacka and McLaren take their vows in a comically verbose fashion before tossing the bouquets to the audience and sending them on their way to sounds of The Captain and Tennille’s ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’, sung beautifully by Laura Burzcott with Karl Lewis on drums and David Ellis providing some mean riffs on guitar.
From its title suffix, Standing on Ceremony presents itself as possibly being a political piece about same sex marital rights. Inherently, it does support the gay marriage lobby with its stories, but really, this compilation is mostly light comedy with a sprinkling of poignancy that leaves you mostly realising just how fictional these situations seem in the Australian landscape, considering our continuing struggle to match our more forward thinking allies.
That doesn’t make the production less enjoyable but certainly changes the kind of impact it has on audiences this side of the equator. The full staging in this production has made it undoubtedly more enjoyable than a staged reading would have been and the addition of a wedding band to bookend the scenes with classic wedding songs and thematically appropriate numbers (like Macklemore’s Same Love) adds immensely to the overall impression. But at just under two hours without an interval, these elements come at the cost of audience comfort.
Overall, performances are excellent with the ensemble matching the redoubtable worth of Miranda, McLaren and Veitch and their marquee billing. With proceeds of the production going to Australian Marriage Equality, those of like minds won’t be disappointed by this particular wedding service.