Monday, December 12, 2011

Theater Review: Standing on Ceremony

Yesterday, I saw the Minetta Lane Theater show Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays. The show is made up of nine short plays, all of which explore gay and lesbian relationships and marriage.

A Jewish mother desperate for her kinder to get married is at the heart of “My Husband,” written by Jewish Obie Award-winner Paul Rudnick. This play is a conversation between Gabrielle Finkelstein and her son Michael after gay marriage was legalized in New York. Gabrielle is desperate for her son to get married, mostly because she needs to compete with other liberal Jewish Democrat parents whose gay children have gotten married. I was clutching my sides from laughter during this play, partially because I actually know a Jewish mother who felt this away about her gay son.

I find it amusing that The New York Times’ review of “My Husband” completely didn’t understand it, describing it only as “a clever spoof of the collective rush to the altar and the competitive streak it can bring out in both the participants and their relatives.” The review doesn’t even use the word “Jewish” anywhere, and certainly doesn’t acknowledge the unique relationship between a Jewish mother and her children anywhere. Can only Jews understand this kind of thing?

“London Mosquitoes,” penned by Jewish Tony Award-nominated director Moises Kaufman, is a monologue from the point of view of a widower eulogizing his deceased lover. Joe begins the play by mentioning a rabbi, and ends it off by beginning the Mourners’ Kaddish (the prayer service for the dead), “yisgadal v’yiskadash shemai rabbah b’alma di v’ra…” (The text of the Kaddish actually has nothing to do with death; rather, it praises God, showing the speaker’s belief in the Holy One even at times of great emotional distress. The line Joe says means “magnified and sanctified be God’s great name in this world which God has created.”) I don’t know if I’m reading too far into it, but I interpret the fact that “London Mosquitoes” mentions Judaism at the beginning and the end shows that if a person is born a Jew, he or she will die a Jew, too; it doesn’t matter whether he or she is straight or gay.

Two of the plays focused on lesbian couples. “Traditional Wedding,” written by comedian Mo Gaffney, is a dialogue between long-married lesbians happily reminiscing about their wedding. Because they didn’t want to use the terminology “bride” or “groom,” they decided on “broom” instead, even decorating the top of their cake with two brooms. This play was very bittersweet: Liz, one of the women, describes how her father kicked her out when he found out she was gay and then wouldn’t come to the wedding, while her partner’s former Marine father attended with tears of joy in his eyes. I appreciated how this play really depicts reality, even if it’s sometimes not the reality we would like to face.

“This Flight Tonight,” by playwright Wendy MacLeod, is a conversation between two lesbians who have to fly to Iowa from California in order to get married legally. While the couple bickers and disagrees, almost deciding not to board the plane to Des Moines after all, at the end they realize that marrying in the eyes of the law is worth the effort. This play really showcases the stupidity of the fact that marriage is a state issue. It reminds me of the women’s suffrage battle, where suffragist Alice Paul butted heads with major suffragists because they wanted to pursue the right to vote on a state-by-state basis, while she thought it would be more effective to lobby for a constitutional amendment. Her idea was the one that worked at the end, resulting in the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. I really think it would be extremely valuable for the gay community to learn from the women’s rights movement in this way, and possibly focus more effort on getting federal laws protecting marriage equality.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed Standing on Ceremony and would definitely recommend it. Get your tickets fast - it closes on December 18! Part of all proceeds is donated to Freedom to Marry, as well as other organizations dedicated to gay marriage. When you buy tickets, you’re not only guaranteeing yourself a good time, but helping gay rights!

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