by SOPHIE KERMAN
Memorial Day weekend might officially kick off the wedding season for most of the population, but for same-sex couples in most states, all those weddings are just a reminder of one way that their love can not be legally recognized. And despite all of the political rhetoric about rights and principles, what Standing on Ceremony makes absolutely clear is that the issue boils down to love – whose love is worthy of official and public recognition, and whose love is only deemed valid behind closed doors or in certain states.
As much as I personally support the marriage equality agenda, I would not recommend the play if it wasn’t also an entertaining and moving evening of theatre. Fortunately, Standing on Ceremony is not only presented by some big-name supporters - the
Hennepin Theatre Trust and the Frank Theatre in partnership with Minnesotans United for all Families - but it also has the strong cast and emotional power to back it up.Rather than presenting only one perspective on this issue, Standing on Ceremony consists of twelve short plays by a line-up of playwrights that includes winners of Emmys, Obies, Tonys, and the Pulitzer Prize. The wide range of points of view is the play’s greatest asset, given the current two-dimensional state of the political debate on same-sex marriage. Although the gay and lesbian characters all agree that their relationships deserve equal recognition as heterosexual relationships, they grapple with the implications of that recognition in different ways. Their individual experiences bring out some of the less-discussed nuances of the marriage debate: having to fly to another state to get married, the effects of “white marriages” (sexless arrangements involving at least one closeted homosexual partner) on children, or the question of what marriage means when one’s “first anniversary” would come after a 45-year committed relationship.
The strength of all of these plays’ diverse characterizations stems entirely from the strong ensemble cast (the local all-star team of Laura B. Adams, Shawn Brown, Aimee K. Bryant, Shanan Custer, Jim Lichtscheidl, and Mark Rhein) as well as Wendy Knox‘s sensitive direction. The staging is simple, ranging from a staged-reading format to small clusters of characters around tables or on opposite ends of the stage. This format permits the audience to hone in on the characters and their individual situations, whether funny or tragic.
On the other hand, the conservative characters are not presented with as much compassion as the homosexuals and their allies. While some of these portrayals are funny, biting, and utterly recognizable – as in the re-enactment of a real-life Facebook debate in Doug Wright’s On Facebook – others revert to familiar stereotypes of conservative paranoia and denial. If this play has a flaw, it is that it prepares audiences very well for blatant, outspoken conservatism, but perhaps less well for the more subtle homophobia that one might encounter in the workplace or a social situation.
The over-representation of male playwrights also means that many of the meatier parts are given to the male cast members, with Neil LaBute’s Strange Fruit and Moisés Kaufman’s London Mosquitoes standing out as the most emotionally hard-hitting of the night. (Viewers be warned: I rarely cry at the theater, but these two brought me dangerously close. I suspect the audience’s long silence after Strange Fruit was a collective effort to pull ourselves together enough to applaud.) But the evening does present moments for its female characters to shine as well, as in the restrained tensions of Jeffrey Hatcher’s White Marriage or the ebullient joy of Mo Gaffney’s A Traditional Wedding.
In short, Standing on Ceremony offers a much-needed supplement to the discussion on same-sex marriage. It is also proof of the importance of art in public debate: I can’t imagine another way to present such a strong and nuanced point of view in only 75 minutes without ever resorting to political platitudes. With the vote on the same-sex marriage amendment only a few months away, Standing on Ceremony reminds us that no matter what our sexual orientation – and no matter what our political stance may be – when love is the bottom line, there is really no argument.
[Note: Standing on Ceremony is offering a $15 per ticket Student/Educator RUSH discount, cash only, limit 2 tickets per valid school ID. These RUSH tickets will be available for all performances one hour before the show at the New Century Box Office.
In addition, for those who see the show and want to return, the Trust is including a Buy One, Get One Free ticket coupon in the program so you can come back and bring a friend.]
Standing on Ceremony, presented by the Hennepin Theatre Trust and the Frank Theatre in the New Century Theatre, 615 Hennepin Avenue, Suite 145, Minneapolis, 55403. May 31-June 16, 2012. Single tickets are $25 for general admission and can be purchased at HennepinTheatreTrust.org or 1.800.982.2787.