Breaking Ground on Marriage Equality, Then Finding Ground to Stand on

Breaking Ground on Marriage Equality, Then Finding Ground to Stand on

November 11, 2011 at 4:00 am

Where: Minetta Lane Theatre
Opening: Nov. 13
Price: $59 – $79 
Photo courtesy of O&M Co.

One big fat wedding of art and politics arrived in New York this weekend with the premiere of “Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays.” Making up the wedding party are nine short plays written by eight playwrights whose gifts of prestigious achievements include two Pulitzer Prizes, Tony Award nominations, Emmys and Obies. Playwright Moisés Kaufman, artistic director of Tectonic Theater Project (this production’s partner group) is the creator of one of the most performed plays in America, “The Laramie Project” (2000).

The show’s other star playwrights are Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick and Doug Wright. The works of such writing talents can be expected to be moving  in addition to entertaining, but the producers of “Standing on Ceremony” are also actively pushing a political agenda: marriage equality. New York became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage on June 23, 2011, but that leaves 44 states to go.

Revelers celebrate in Manhattan's West Village following the passage of the same-sex marriage bill on Friday, June 24, 2011. New York is the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage. AP/Louis Lanzano

A portion of ticket proceeds benefit the nonprofit group Freedom to Marry and other organizations promoting marriage equality and campaigning to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which does not recognize marriage for same-sex couples.

To that end, a huge reception of sorts was held for the production on Nov. 7, when audiences in more than 40 theaters across the United States, plus a few in Canada and Australia, watched a live broadcast from the production’s home at Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. Although the plays were performed live in each location, audiences witnessed together the celebratory opening remarks from New York that focused on the importance of legalizing gay marriage and a post-show discussion with four of the playwrights and the president of Freedom to Marry, to which anyone could submit questions via Twitter.

Scenes from Lafayette College's production of "The Laramie Project," Moisés Kaufman's play about the reaction to the 1998 hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming gay student in Laramie, Wyoming. In 2009, the play was simultaneously performed in more than 100 theaters across the country. Flickr/Chuck Zovko

Kaufman’s Tectonic Theater Project spearheaded the concept of nationwide simultaneous performances with “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later,” (2009) which re-examined the hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard and was seen by approximately 50,000 theatergoers in more than 100 theaters on the same night. In a phone conversation, Kaufman compared such simulcast evenings to the Federal Theater Project of the 1930s, when the same productions were shown in theaters around the country. As for “Standing on Ceremony,” Kaufman said: “It’s a stellar group of writers tackling this moment in American history. There’s a great deal of humor, pathos and surprises in the work.”

Kaufman, who is gay, contributed “London Mosquitoes” to the grouping of short plays. “So much of the national dialogue on gay marriage is about how straight people feel about it. I was interested in how legislation and change of rituals affect the gay and lesbian community,” said Kaufman. According to him, “Long Mosquitoes” is “about a couple who were together for 50 years, asking ‘if we get married, what does that say about what we’ve been doing for past 50 years?’”

In the broadcast panel discussion, Kaufman said that this new option to participate in an institution raises questions: “With every social movement, with every gain, there comes loss. Now we have a contract written for us (a marriage contract). Until then, we did that ourselves. We were forced to be imaginative and exhibit a certain amount of ingenuity,” Kaufman said.


In the video above, panelists discuss the “Standing on Ceremony” plays and marriage equality during a live broadcast. From left to right: Doug Wright, Freedom to Marry president Evan Wolfson, José Rivera, New York Times theater reporter Patrick Healy, Paul Rudnick and Moisés Kaufman.

A tweet to the panel asked how vital the role of the arts is in the fight for marriage equality. Playwright Paul Rudnick, who contributed two comic plays to the evening, answered, “Theater is often the first place as a forum for controversial topics. In the AIDS crisis, you got it in ‘The Normal Heart‘ and ‘Angels in America.’ There aren’t movies or TV programs devoted to gay marriage so theater again becomes the torchbearer.”

Luckily for audiences, this pairing of art and politics respects each other’s boundaries. Don’t expect angry diatribes, pedantic plots and smug rim-shots for the moral high ground. The evening, directed by Stuart Ross, is billed as “funny and heartwarming.” Comments lifted from a Facebook thread inspired Doug Wright’s “On Facebook” and Wendy MacLeod’s “This Flight Tonight” asks whether there is hope for happiness when a lesbian marriage begins in Iowa.

The playwrights are predominately gay, the cast predominately straight. As brought up by the audience during the preview night, the project could use more diversity in terms of racial composition and the presence of women. The New York cast will rotate with big-names during the show’s open-ended run, but one brilliant casting for the cause is Richard Thomas, an actor whose association as “John Boy” on “The Waltons” couldn’t be a more winning plug for wholesome family values, including marriage.