On the 26th of June, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, making it immediately legal in all fifty states. That landmark decision followed a decades-long struggle for (among other things) the right to marry the person of your choice, regardless of sex, by the gay community and its allies. In Standing on Ceremony, eight short plays deliver funny, adorable, and occasionally moving commentary on this important ritual. The recent production in the Barron Theatre, directed by Nataliea Abramowitz, captured these feeling wonderfully, and proved to be an entirely enjoyable show throughout.
My aunt married her wife during the short time in 2008 when gay marriage was legalized in California, only a few years before Standing on Ceremony was conceived. Though I was young, this event made crystal-clear to me the importance that institutional recognition – namely, marriage – has for the validation of same-sex couples. These eight plays wonderfully captured both the outrageous (though sometimes almost laughable) injustice, as well as the enduring hope, that defined the final decade of the marriage equality movement in America.
The individual pieces were, for the most part, well done. Short, snappy plots and sharp direction made each play feel unique and lively, and made the production as a whole engaging from the first few seconds. The short plays that stood out the most were the two darkest – Strange Fruit and London Mosquitoes – alongside the lighter My Husband. Each of these had a simple, watchable quality to them that facilitated moving and hilarious moments in equal measure. Abramowitz has a keen eye for this style of production – her sense of what is important and what is not as important, as well as her willingness to keep beautiful moments simple, shows a level of directorial discretion that is admirable. Additionally, her entire cast had a talent for strong characterization without ever overplaying a moment, or searching too hard for a laugh. The strongest performer, to me, was Chris Walker, who featured in all three of the strongest plays, and whose quiet intensity, comedic timing, and ability to convey constrained grief was wonderful to watch. All this said, there were one or two pieces that didn’t quite click – whether because of weak inter-character chemistry or stumbling over lines. Though a small part of the production overall, these meant notable changes in quality from scene to scene that were occasionally frustrating.
My larger problem with Standing on Ceremony is a cultural one: namely, that British accents throughout undercut most of the contextual weight the script had to offer. While the American accents that were attempted were quite good, a majority of the cast – as well as the characters – had undisguised British accents, confusing the sense of place that much of the play’s meta-narrative relies upon. This did not diminish appreciation for the merits of the cast – and it’s likely that badly-executed American accents would have detracted more – but this limited the heights to which this particular production could rise. I understand that the UK has seen its own struggle for marriage equality, a struggle which deserves equal attention, and that has equal elation at its victory (outside of Northern Ireland), but specific references to American geography and history made the cognitive dissonance concrete.
Overall, there is everything to love and nothing to hate about this absolutely adorable production. Cast and crew should be commended for putting together something so cogent and smoothly executed in less than a month, as well as for bringing a smile – and perhaps an occasional tear – to everyone who had the pleasure to attend.