Saturday, January 13, 2007

Who's Getting Married in the Morning?

"Regrets Only" presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center, January 9, 2007

(Spoiler Alert)

Paul Rudnick's new play asks a rather pertinent question, given the current these days on gay marriage in the US: What would happen if every gay and lesbian took the day off?

As confrontational as that sounds, Mr. Rudnick uses the upper crust of NYC society to set up events leading to just that.

Hank Hadley (George Grizzard) is a world-class clothing designer. He arrives at the top of the show to pick up his dear friend Tibby McCullough (Christine Baransky) to resume their tour of society parties and events. Hank's "longtime companion" of 38 years, Michael, has recently died and Tibby is anxious to get Hank back into life. Tibby's husband Jack (David Rasche) and daughter Spencer (Diane Davis) arrive in short order, both with exciting announcements. Spencer is getting married and Jack has been asked to come to Washington to work on a new constitutional amendment which would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This is what sets off Hank, that his best friends would take on a project that overtly discriminates against him.

If all this sounds a little serious and even dark, remember that it's written by Paul Rudnick. Every character, including Myra the Jewish maid, the only one in NY (Jackie Hoffman) gets at least a couple of bon mots to toss out from time to time. Spencer gets one of the first when reflecting on her pending nuptials "...because I'm a lawyer, I can write my own pre-nup." As the topic moves to something more important to this group, that of the dress, Hank is immediately commissioned. During this discussion, Hank gets in a number of pokes at some of the more current popular designers. On Donna Karan: "You should have Donna do your gown. Then you can wear it to work." On Vera Wang: "...always perfect, because they're always the same." On Ralph Lauren: " the little embroidered polo players that he puts on everything. Did you know that's really a portrait of him - life size?" Myra gets her own jab in here, when Hank is reminded that he'd done one of Nancy Reagan's inaugural gowns, "... a 98 pound , sun-damaged, 64 year old woman in a strapless gown. Your country thanks you!"

Hank does come back to life by casually organizing a gay strike the day before Spencer's wedding. No service organization, from caterers to florists to Hank's design studio are open and those depending on them are unhinged. Marietta had gone to Hank's for her final gown fitting and was abandoned unclothed. Improvising an outfit of garbage bags and shoe boxes, she runs into a friend on the street who asked, "Prada?" When Spencer's fiance goes missing the same day, Marietta offers: "There is no shame in marrying a gay man as long as he went to a good school." (Tibby responds: "That's true.")

Ms. Baransky returns to NY after a praised run of "Mame" at the Kennedy Center last year. Her Tibby is a graceful, empathetic, thoughtful "rich white woman." She wears the wounds of a girl whose teenaged bout with anorexia was praised by her own mother, but does so with style and panache.

Mr. Rache's Jack is a proper foil to Ms. Baranky's Tibby, handsome, well-dressed, well-educated, well-mannered, but falls a bit into stereotype as a man whose supposed self-awareness covers his lack of it. He says all the right things, but only because he's fallen into the timing of Hank and Tibby's conversations, not their subtext.

As Spencer, Ms. Davis makes one of the most frenetic entrances I've seen onstage. She's truly the product of her parents' contradictions. Ms. Phillips' Marietta is rather two-dimensional, coming across in appearance as a poor man's Marlena Dietrich.

Jackie Hoffman's Myra gets to have the most fun in this show, popping in and out with a world (literally) of accents, tossing verbal hand grenades with each exit.

As Hank, Mr. Grizzard captures the poise and elegance of the premiere designer. His contained grief is touching as he asks Tibby not to spout the platitudes usually bestowed on the grieving, which of course, she can't help but get at least one out. His polite discomfort masks his outrage as Jack announces his plan to help with the marriage amendment.

Michael Yeargin's NY apartment set is just terrific. Contemporary without looking overtly modern, he uses warm tones that serve as a neutral background for the color in the dialogue. William Ivey Long is perfectly in his element with some gorgeous gowns, particularly Tibby's first act red beaded and strapless sheath with a short train. (It doesn't hurt to have an actress with Ms. Baransky's body either.) I was slightly disappointed with Spencer's wedding gown. I found it didn't quite have that unique flair that I would have expected a "Hank Hadley original" would demonstrate.

Overall it's quite a fun show, lots of laughs. I think the political jabs are singing to the choir, though. It plays very well in NYC. I'll be interested to see how it travels to other productions across the country.

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