Don’t look now, but gay marriage — gay marriage — is legal in the United States. One hundred percent legal. It really, truly is. And it really, truly always has been. Better not to tell Tibby McCullough, central figure in Diversionary Theatre’s current Regrets Only, or she’ll have lost one of her many fabricated reasons for living. This tightly wound, colossally befuddled New York socialite embraces the lefty side of any and every cause if it’s at all alive in the public mind; besides, such a revelation would kill the mystery in her longtime friendship with Hank Hadley, legendary gay fashion designer. Take away the flamboyance, and Tibby is about as inspiring as her name.
That said, Paul Rudnick’s play on old acquaintances, new thought and true friendship is a laff riot, piloted by one of San Diego’s very best talents and unveiled by a cast who clearly found their particular culture of ensemble early on. It does want to shift from genre to genre on occasion, thinking it’s a sitcom one minute and a middle farce the next — but Rudnick’s seasoned humor withstands the assault, even when it necessarily shouldn’t. This show has some serious horses, and unlike Rudnick’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, it actually has an ending.
Where else but in her lavish Upper East Side apartment would Tibby (Kerry McCue) be getting ready for some time on the town with Hadley (Andrew Oswald), whose partner of four decades has recently died. Things happen fast as Tibby’s lawyer daughter Spencer (Rachael VanWormer) dizzily announces her engagement; no sooner does Tibby’s filthy-rich constitutional lawyer husband Jack (Charles Maze) get a call from the President of the United States (presumably the younger Bush) to help forge an amendment banning gay marriage.
Tibby’s four brain cells bid her support for Jack’s decision to go to D.C. (Spencer’s going with him) — and the jilted, well-connected Hadley strikes back (pun intended), to the detriment of New York’s Broadway playgoers and Catholic penitents (you have to be there).
The one-liners spare no one (“Will there be dancing?” Hadley wonders about a charity event for quadruple amputees; in the next few seconds, he facetiously recommends that Spencer invest in a Donna Karan wedding dress because “you can wear it to work”). Every so often, they do fall out of focus, trading the particulars in Jack’s assignment for an obvious deviation in style — and the consequences bear note.
As a straight man, for example, I’m prohibited in 31 states from marriage inside my gender— therefore, the legality of same-sex unions in the other 19 would seem to tilt those states’ civil rights climates in favor of a certain social class, and I’m not so sure that’s in the country’s best interest. That’s the kind of discussion Spencer and Jack should be fueling in their trip to D.C. (especially if they’re crafting an anti-gay marriage measure); and given Rudnick’s great talent for off-the-cuff humor, I think it can be drawn in a funny way. Here, though, the relevance of the amendment defers to Hadley’s plot for revenge — and as clever as that plot is, it veers too close to farce, a wholly different style than what Rudnick sets us up for.
While there isn’t enough of Tibby’s mom Marietta Claypoole (Dagmar Krause Fields), whose absurdism has seen her married to five gay men, it might be said there’s too much of the McCulloughs’ Jewish maid Myra Kesselman (Teri Brown), a one-woman Greek chorus whose commentary eventually loses a lot of its bite amid its sameness of purpose. But both girls show extraordinary zeal, and that translates into the contagion of humor the ensemble requires. Meanwhile, Matt Scott’s scene design barely (and shrewdly) avoids the suggestion of farce, while Alina Bokovikova’s costumes play to many characters’ inherent silliness (Tibby’s black chiffon is a classic statement, and get a load of Marietta!). Luke Olson’s lights and Kevin Anthenill’s sound collaborate well, one’s visual strengths fueling the aurals of the other.
Oh. The thing about the legality of gay marriage?
Suppose my girlfriend is a lesbian (she’s not), and we wed. Instant gay marriage, all legal and proper. Terrible term, however. The phrase “same-sex marriage” can and must convey the far stronger idea, and the notes near the end of the playbill wisely employ it (thanks to director Jessica John, whose work here is swell, for including them). Rudnick uses an equally broad brush in asserting that we love who we love regardless — and with Regrets Only, everybody parts friends to that end.
This review is based on the matinée performance of Aug. 31. Regrets Only runs through Sept. 21 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. in University Heights. $25-$50. (619) 220-0097, diversionary.org.