Gay Marriage Plays hit Cherry Grove in Standing on Ceremony
By Denise Dell Harbin
Photo Caption: Standing on Ceremony cast: (front, seated, left to
right) Panzi, Barbara Dowd, Gay Nathan, Tim Webster. Back row: Bob McAleavy,
Dennis McConkey, Sherri Rase, Robin Cradles, Shirley Ritenour, Philip Stoehr,
Director Matt Baney photo by Denise
On Saturday June 30, I attended
the first show of Standing on Ceremony at 7:30 PM at The Arts Project in Cherry
Grove. This was n anthology of 9 short plays by some well known writers on the
subject of gay marriage. Director Matt Baney tagged it as a reading, yet there
were a few set pieces in 2 stained glass windows designed by Dennis McConkey
flanking a church type lectern and a large display of flowers. The cast was
seated on directors chairs in two rows, with the rear row on a raised platform,
looking like a church choir, with notebooks of script open on their laps. They
remain there in the shadows while taking turns to perform.
Current APCG Homecoming Queen
Robin Kradles made her usual grand entrance, and then took the stage to act as
the EmCee of the evening.
First came The Revision,
by Heideman Award winner Jordan Harrison, with Phil Stoehr and Bob
McAleavy as gay men writing their wedding vows with each other. They struggled
with many of the words in traditional marriage vows, finding them too confining
for their situation. And figured out the fine points of their relationship in
the analysis of words. Nate (Phil) is a stickler for detail, and comments to
Wallace (Bob) to be more accurate in defining the rules of the gay-marriage
game as they currently stand. “If we’re going to be acknowledging a higher
authority, I just think we should be more thorough,” he says. “Something like,
‘In the eyes of God and the ever-shifting whims of state and federal
constitutional law.’ ” Yes, it is a legal no-man’s land, with the fine
points being worked out with every gay marriage in the 6 states and the
District of Columbia that now sanction them.
Next came This Flight
Tonight by Sundance Jury Prize winner Wendy MacLeod, starring Shirley
Ritenour and Barbara Dowd as a female couple on their way from LA to Iowa to get married. They both flirted with other women in the airport, but by the time
they were boarding their flight, they had realized they were the one for each
other, lost the “cold feet” and declared their love again. But they both hate
having to be so far from home. And it is not just because one’s parents live in
the Midwest, but because California repealed gay marriage after just a few
months. Remember Ellen and Portia? “I wanted a wedding on a beach,” Shirley’s
antsy character Annie whines. “That’s not an option in Des Moines,” Hannah
(Barbara) patiently reminds her gently.
In The Gay Agenda, by Obie
and Outer Critics Circle Award winner Paul Rudnick, ever popular Grove
performer Panzi (Thom Hansen) played a bigoted white matron, Mary Abigail
Carstairs-Sweetbuckle, explaining how she really doesn’t dislike gays, with
every word telling of her contempt. She talked of her gay neighbors, Bill and
Stuart, and swears she now hears a “gay voice in her head”, telling her “she
could lose a few pounds”, among other criticisms. . When they visited her
kitchen, they said “oh this is where Betty Crocker shot herself!” They
commented on her collection of “The President’s wives plates” while she
defended each suffering wife and she noted that “Satan had created gays as a
craft project”. Vitriol in the suburbs! Mrs. ‘I hate gays’ told her swishy
neighbors that now that every TV show seems to include a sassy gay friend,
“gays were taking jobs away from black women”, showing her idea of the pecking
order of society. Stuart assured her “there is no gay agenda!” We see the human
face and the character flaws of all these people as well as the stereotypes.
And of course, we laugh! It’s Paul Rudnick writing, after all!
On Facebook, by Pulitzer
Prize and Tony Award Doug Wright (Grey Gardens), had a litany of characters who
fought out the gay marriage issue on a thread on the social media behemoth.
Phil, Gay Nathan, Dennis McConkey, Panzi, Barbara Dowd and Matt all gave their
opinions on gay marriage. At one point a comment got “Like” three times, with a
thumbs up from the actors! There were gay friends, bigoted straights and
everything in between. When one asked if he could use this thread as the basis
for a story, most participants said “sure” but the most bigoted said
“absolutely not”! When Panzi’s character defended herself as how much she loves
gays, Barbara’s retorted with a “you can’t argue with a whole roll of stupid”
and ‘She thinks gay depends on the ‘open minded’…she listens to the Pope!”
Panzi’s retort was that she ‘can’t believe she is intolerant.” We all know
these characters…they are everywhere! And in some ways it shows how silly our
communication has become.
Strange Fruit by Tony
Award nominee Neil LaBute (Fat Pig) told the story of two gay men (Matt Baney
and Phil Stoerhr) who, over the period of a long relationship of 16 years,
finally were getting married. Through simultaneous monologues, they had let us
hear the ‘cute’ moments of their relationship…how they shaved together and “he
got that cute little dab of shaving ream on his nose”…we knew exactly how much
they were in love. They traveled to California (then the only legal venue) to
say their vows…to the Hotel del Coranado in San Diego that they had seen
glamorized in a film. So gay! When one went out of the hotel on a 7-11 run
feeling the joy of the experience and the location, he was accosted by 3 young
men near the ocean, and was killed in a gay bashing. He said “I never really
saw their faces” but he does not seem sad. Just confused. The surviving partner
(Phil) told of how it shook his life, and the departed (Matt) reminisced on how
innocent it was…he was still in his joy. One is reminded that funerals are
harder on those left behind. Their relationship was now sad and poignant,
frozen forever in time. And only alive in the memories and the monologues.
And if you think of the Billie
Holiday song of the same name, where black men are hanging from trees and no
one does anything about it, you realize that just because civil rights are
passed and now law, you cannot wipe prejudice from people’s minds. A sad and
moving chapter in this anthology of plays.
Mo Gaffney contributed A
Traditional Wedding, and the scene starred Shirley Ritenour and Sherri
Rase. As a gay female couple, they argued about how to make their wedding
traditional and yet true to their lifestyle. They coined a phrase to answer the
officiant who would say you may now kiss…would it be bride? Would it be groom?
What if they combined it…you may now kiss the broom! Laughter. Giggling as the
gay population struggles to fit their own wants and needs into the tradition of
marriage. Militant with a wide and ironic sense of humor.
Another Paul Rudnick
contribution, My Husband, featured Bob McAleavy and Gay Nathan. Gay
played the older Jewish mother to Bob’s gay son who was without a partner. But
mother needed to show off to her friend, whose gay son had recently gotten
married, and so she took out an announcement in the New York Times, with
concocted details aimed for laughter. She said she had gotten Julie Tabor for
the wedding planner. But what about a photo, the son asked? “I Photoshopped you
in a small white bathing suit with a male model, who was wearing that same
small white bathing suit.” answered Mother. Everything designed to impress! But
what about her son’s true feelings?
London Mosquitoes was
perhaps the most cerebral of the pieces. Written by Pulitzer
Prize winner and Tony Award nominee Moisés Kaufman (33 Variations), and done in
soliloquy by Dennis McConkey, this was perhaps the most moving of the scenes.
Dennis did an excellent, unexpected performance, and it was hard to tell if his
sad emotions were real or really good acting. He is mourner Joe, delivering a
eulogy for his mate Paul, as he explains how we as a species have failed to
evolve. He recalled how he had dated girls, then started double dating with
friend Paul, and after dropping the girls off, the two men would fool around.
Just fool around! Like boys do! Then one day, after about a year of this, they
kissed. And it changed everything. They were then together 46 years. And when
asked the secret of such a long marriage, he answered “Have a large apartment
and leave the room.” Yes, psychologically, if we could all just give our
partner some room…a little space to stay “me” inside of “we”.
He explained that in the late
1800’s, mosquitoes were trapped in the tunnel for the subway in London. They evolved and after about 150 years, they could no longer mate with the previous
species. He reminded the audience that AIDS had come along and caused more
evolution in the gay community so that they could no longer mate with the
previous human species. Well, or don’t want to! For all the “bad” of the AIDS
epidemic, it gave us the “good” of females bonding to men not in a sexual way
whatsoever, and to say this is how we love!
But when Joe suggested to Paul
just before he died that they could now get married, Paul became irate, Joe
retells. “And in a year, we’d have our first anniversary. And what would that
say about the last 45 years? We were just messing around?”
Finally, Pablo and Andrew at
the Alter of Words, by Obie Award winner José Rivera, was
performed with great aplomb by Matt Baney and Bob McAleavy. Two very
intelligent men…in the writing and in the casting…take a look at the meaning of
words in a marriage. Oh, yes, the lawyers must be having a field day with gay
marriage…and divorce! And at the end, the flowers will fly into the audience!
So if you are single, try to catch one!
What was Tim Webster’s role? He
was in kind of a mourning mother’s drag…he was not listed in the cast and at
the end he simply says 3 words. He was us? No one could definitively tell me.
But, he and husband David Bulock were among the first Cherry Grovers to get
married. At that time, they had to go to Canada. Time changes everything!
Stagehands Martha Pitkin and
Ellen Biggers moved props as needed. With Matt on the stage, Alison Brackman
ran the sound with lights handled by Kathy Moroni. Arthur Cohen managed the
stage. Richard Becker designed the poster and the program. The editor of Fire Island Sun, Jeannie Lieberman, helped in putting the show together by suggesting the
show and helping the Arts Project get the rights. It was presented by special
arrangement with Dramatists Play Service Inc. of New York. The set of short
plays was originally conceived by Brian Shnipper.
The anthology has played in New York, off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theater, and in Los Angeles. Both featured
rotating groups of actors. Inspired EW writer Tanner Stransky to call
it “just as much a theater experience
as it is a crusade to illuminate the precarious, confusing, maddening, and —
yes — oftentimes hilarious position that gays and lesbians find themselves in
when it comes to getting hitched legally.” The New York Post commented “You’ve
won the right to wed…now comes the hard work!”
Kudos to Matt Baney and Jeannie
Lieberman for bringing this to Cherry Grove, and to APCG for producing it.
Panzi once told me that a play being considered was “too intelligent…no one
will get it.” But I think we appealed here to a different audience…I think the
audience got it, and enjoyed it. They laughed, they cried. The gay population has
always taken adversity with a dose of humor…we are typecast for it, with that
acerbic edge. If you missed it, look for it somewhere else. And don’t miss
another show at the Arts Project! What is the worst that can happen…you get to
go get ice cream after and tell your friends how you loved it or hated it…all
in all a good night out anytime!
o: Wedded couple Tim Webster
and David Bullock show off their wedding rings at Standing on Ceremony: The
Gay Marriage Plays at The Arts Project in Cherry Grove
When I saw this play in the
Village last Fall I immediately knew it had to be done in the Grove. It was
perfect! Simple. Cogent. Timely. Honest.
I began the long tedious task
of obtaining the rights from its owners who were overwhelmed by the huge
response and legalities of producing it elsewhere.
Unfortunately, before the
“deal” was completed I had to have surgery and spent a month in hospitals and 2
more till I could function well enough to resume the task. Fortunately Martha
believed enough in the project to take up where I left off (there were many
other projects offered for the Arts Project to accept), hired Matt and its
Cherry Grove life began. And it was produced at the one year anniversary if Gay
Marriage Rights, Gay Pride Week and just before Independence Day. Timing!!!
There are few times in life
when a dream becomes a reality and this is one of them.
I thank you all for making it
come true in such an elegant, polished production.
And, Dennis – your performance
broke my heart.
Cast at post show “Wedding Reception”
Photos by Jeannie