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BWW Reviews: Emerald Company Chases the Rainbow in STANDING ON CEREMONY

The Emerald Theatre Company at Theatre Works is currently showcasing not one, not two, not three - but nine pieces in its latest production, STANDING ON CEREMONY: THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS. This modest, meaningful series of vignettes - some, extremely funny; some, sad in the extreme; all, worth seeing - deserves a bit of attention. No matter where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, these enjoyable little playlets tug on your sensibilities and ultimately have a point and purpose. A number of writers have contributed to the piece - Paul Rudnick, Moises Kaufman, Neil LaBute, and others.

The Emerald Theatre Company, now in its 18th year, has dedicated itself to staging works that cater to the gay and bi-sexual segment of theatregoers, and once showcased material that was considered "taboo." However, as Bob Dylan sang, "The times they are a changin'." STANDING ON CEREMONY is rarely shocking. In fact, taken as a whole, these plays examine a variety of topics - commitment, the seriousness of making and taking vows, prejudice, etc. They range in tone from comedic to tragic, and as I watched and enjoyed them, I thought . . . how sad it is that some people will avoid this production because of its subject matter. If a gay audience can attend a "straight" production and gain from it, why can't the reverse be true? Anyone who fails to see this production will miss a thought-provoking and entertaining effort, and it passes very quickly: Even without an Intermission, it clocks in at under ninety minutes.

Of all the pieces, the funniest are probably those by Rudnick, "The Gay Agenda" and "My Husband." In the first, a gushing "liberal," hilariously portrayed by Caroline Sposto, proclaims that she is without prejudice, and as she rattles away at how the only dent in her liberal outlook is gay marriage, I was reminded of Dorothy Parker's wickedly ironic "Arrangement in Black and White," in which a self-proclaimed white hostess allows her prejudice to slip as she heaps praises on the famous black man who is guest of honor at a party. In "The Gay Agenda," despite her personal feelings, Sposto's character decides to share a dessert with a gay couple; and before she knows it, she starts hearing "gay" voices as her very family life turns upside down. In "My Husband," Donna Lappin portrays a competitive Jewish mother (think Nancy Walker as the mother in RHODA) who wants to outshine her friends' liberalism by fabricating a wedding announcement about her son (an understandably upset young man played by Burton Bridges). As the article inflates, so do the laughs.

Yet, there are other pieces that are gentler in nature (i.e., Wendy MacLeod's "This Flight Tonight," with Taneirva Dodson and Sonya Lynn as anxious partners about to set off to the least likely setting for a gay wedding; and Jordan Harrison's "The Revision," with the Burton Bridges character trying to compose a wedding vow to suit his partner, played by Robert Williams). There are pieces, too, that jolt the sensibilities and end in sadness (i.e., LaBute's "Strange Fruit," with Den-Nickolas Smith and John Haglund as long-time lovers, different but sweetly in tune -- until a thoughtless and violent act occurs; and Kaufman's "London Mosquitoes," delivered as a eulogy, and perhaps the most powerful characterization of all, as well as a unique take on evolution).

Delightfully, several cast members come together for the last piece, Doug Wright's "On Face Book," in which one of those jaw-dropping "threads" find a prejudicial character "unraveling." Supposedly based on a real Face Book thread, it cleverly ushers gay marriage on to the cyber-"stage," and it's both frustrating and funny.

Director Hal Harmon has a rainbow-like array of banners as a backdrop, and the costuming is basically "school dress" and tie (there's no real need for a set of any kind). Yet, he and his cast have a commitment not only to the subject matter, but to the audience as well; and those who see STANDING ON CEREMONY will come away both entertained and enlightened. Through March 22.

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From This Author Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from (read more...)