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Theatre Review: OSU’s Standing on Ceremony is a Beautiful Exploration of Marriage

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theatre Review: OSU’s Standing on Ceremony is a Beautiful Exploration of MarriageBryan Arnold and Chorsie Calbert IV in The Revision, one of the nine short plays in The Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s production of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays. Photo by Matt Hazard.
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Standing on Ceremony, an anthology of short plays and sketches themed around gay marriage, premiered Off-Broadway in 2011 – the year New York ratified marriage equality.  It’s a snapshot of that fraught time when marriage was only available to all people in certain states. The 9 plays here, written by a selection of some of the most acclaimed playwrights working today, are staged in inventive ways around Drake Union, indoors and out, and tied together with a semi-immersive framing sequence. OSU’s Theatre Department’s  delightful production – directed by Jennifer Schlueter and Karie Miller doesn’t shy away from its time capsule elements but uses then to reflect what’s universal, what still resonates.

Natalie Ferris and Amanda Loch in This Flight Tonight, one of the nine short plays in The Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s production of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays. Photo by Matt Hazard.

Natalie Ferris and Amanda Loch in This Flight Tonight, one of the nine short plays in The Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s production of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays. Photo by Matt Hazard.

It’s appropriate the evening of theatre begins and ends with plays about words. Appropriate both because many of the opponents tried to hide their cruelty and ignorance in semantics and talk of definitions and because marriage as an institution is a prime example of the word made flesh. Something becomes real because two people say it and the state – your friends, your family, the world – acknowledges its validity. Jordan Harrison’s “The Revision” is a sharp, funny attempt by a couple to write their own vows. Chorsie Calbert IV and Bryan Arnold’s characters – who both do exquisite work in all four roles they each play – battle back and forth between tradition and modernity, working within the limited strictures of the law and centuries of having one member of the union being a woman and finding beauty in the clunky, literal language they arrive at. Jose Rivera’s gorgeous “Pablo and Andrew at the Altar of Words” which closes the evening arrives at the end of that struggle, where we get to hear the product of this definition, language honed to a funny, raunchy, uniquely personal declaration. It stars Calbert opposite Danny DiMarino with the remaining actors gathered as their wedding party. A similar tension between past and future suffuses Mo Gaffney’s “A Traditional Wedding” with Arnold and Halischak as two women recounting the story of their wedding and delineating their pasts. The Gaffney is a bravura look at whether or not people can evolve, a glimpse at how long wounds can hurt us, and maybe the most moving piece.

The plays also veer into zanier territory, especially on Paul Rudnick’s two pieces. “The Gay Agenda” features an explosive, slapstick portrayal by Hannah Halischak as an unhinged PTA leader. It’s the other characters from “Harper Valley PTA” with the brightness all the way up and a hilarious parody of a strangling terror of change. The other Rudnick, “My Husband” takes on Upper East Side comedy a la Woody Allen as it pairs DiMarino with Natalie Ferris as his doting and socially competitive Mother in an escalating, absurd look at the frenzy that can come from the disconnect between expectation and reality.

My favorite pieces in this evening worked with a rich ambiguity even in their short running times. Wendy MacLeod’s “This Flight Tonight” has the same tension between soaring and questioning as its namesake Joni Mitchell song with Natalie Ferris and Amanda Loch leaving the comforts of California for Iowa where marriage was legal at the time. A razor-sharp dissection of cold feet and the joys gained through compromise with an astonishing speech by Loch that stops time. Neil Labute’s “Strange Fruit” is a dazzling ice pick in the heart that plays with time and physics as Calbert and Loch vivisect a relationship, laying out minor grievances and erotic joys but spinning around a terrible act. Both actors, good in everything here, are jaw-dropping.

Natalie Ferris and Amanda Loch in This Flight Tonight, one of the nine short plays in The Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s production of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays. Photo by Matt Hazard.

Natalie Ferris and Amanda Loch in This Flight Tonight, one of the nine short plays in The Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s production of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays. Photo by Matt Hazard.

The bittersweet heart of the evening comes with Moises Kaufman’s “London Mosquitoes.” Set at a funeral, Arnold beautifully plays a man mourning his partner of 46 years who rejected marrying when it became an option because it would have made their time before something less. It’s a powerful tribute to witnessing, as the Labute and the Gaffney were, a look at the imprint we leave on other lives, and a fascinating, sad reminder that every inch of progress comes too late for someone.

These short plays are an electrifying look at how interesting student work can be. The inventive low to the ground stagings and overall sense of fun make this one of the most unique nights of theatre you’ll spend this Fall.

Standing on Ceremony runs through October 4th with multiple performances Friday through Sunday. For tickets and more info visit Theatre.osu.edu.

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