By Sonia Nair
Nine heart-warming vignettes make up Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays – currently showing at Prahran institution Chapel off Chapel, as part of the Midsumma Festival. Originally devised as a series of readings, the nine plays were written three years ago by famed American playwrights ranging from Paul Rudnick and Jordan Harrison, to Moisés Kaufman and Neil LaBute.
That the plays were penned by Americans accounts for discrepancies between the portrayal of laws governing same-sex couples in the United States and Australia that are achingly obvious as early as the first play ‘The Revision’, where two men (played by Spencer McLaren and Brett Whittingham) rewrite their wedding vows to more accurately reflect the limited options available to a gay couple.
Many of the rights heterosexual couples enjoy – governing things such as real estate, superannuation and the simple dignity of compassionate leave in the event of a bereaved partner – were extended to Australian same-sex couples in 2009 when the Rudd Government passed a suite of legislative changes recommended by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, rendering many of the jokes in ‘The Revision’ untenable.
That aside, the inability of same-sex couples to marry is a central construct of the first, and subsequent, plays and one that still rings true in across Australia.
Ellis plays a traditional Ohioan homemaker … who starts to unravel when she hears voices in her head after a gay couple move in next door, convinced it’s all part of the same ‘gay agenda’.
Set in an airport, the second play ‘This Flight Tonight’ is stronger, with stellar performances by Olivia Hogan and Pia Miranda (of Looking for Alibrandi fame), tackling the implausibility of a perfect wedding taking place in Iowa, alongside broader concerns around the sanctity of marriage.
“Am I the one? I dunno, but I am a one,” Hogan says in response to Miranda’s querying if their marriage will work out.
Hogan and Miranda feature together again in ‘Traditional Wedding’ where they reminisce about their nuptials, although the monologue lacks the narrative focus of ‘This Flight Tonight’ and comes across as slightly forced.
Particular highlights include ‘The Gay Agenda’ and ‘My Husband’ with executive producer and director Helen Ellis taking centrestage in both. In the former, Ellis plays a traditional Ohioan homemaker by the name of Mary Abigail Carstairs-Sweetbuckle – and member of hilariously titled fictional bodies such as the Traditional Family Delta Force and Aryan Family Freedom Fighters – who starts to unravel when she hears voices in her head after a gay couple move in next door, convinced it’s all part of the same ‘gay agenda’.
Conversely, in the latter Ellis parodies the traditional Jewish mother who is desperate to keep up with the Joneses but, in a twist, wants to marry-off her single gay son – played exasperatedly by Luke Jacka – in the most spectacular fashion possible.
In startling contrast and arguably the best piece of the night, ‘London Mosquitoes’ stars Michael Veitch as a grieving widower delivering a sorrowful eulogy in tribute to his long-time partner. The audience journey along with Veitch as he chronicles a budding love affair that started in the 70s, and alternatively questions the need for marriage as validation of the relationship he shared with his beloved for the past few decades.
The production is not without its pithy one-liners either, most notably in ‘On Facebook’ where a re-enacted Facebook thread descends into chaos as acquaintances debate the subject of gay marriage. As a gay character says to another who opposes same-sex marriage, “why should your thoughts on a topic govern my choices?”
While the plays may not tread new terrain and occasionally veer into preachy territory, they do what they set out to, presenting a light-hearted, humorous look at the celebration that accompanies love and marriage, and how the Australian landscape is currently unequal when it comes to commemorating the relationships of same-sex couples.
Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays is showing at Chapel off Chapel until February 9. Proceeds of the play go towards Australian Marriage Equality.