Edgy. Accessible. Gay. Those three words are what drew director Donna Donnelly to the West Coast Players Production of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays.
“I was looking through new plays,” Donnelly says. “Since the play would be in June, I wanted something that had a gay theme to coincide with Pride month. I wanted something interesting and unique.”
For Donnelly, Standing on Ceremony stood out. “I had never heard of this piece before; it’s a series of nine vignettes, all written by contemporary, living authors. People like Paul Rudnick who has written several gay themed plays, or Moises Kaufman, who created The Laramie Project, and Mo Gaffney (perhaps best known as Bo from Absolutely Fabulous), who is a lesbian and an activist. They’re all alive, they’re all writing, and they all have a pulse on homosexuality and the challenges.”
However, Standing on Ceremony doesn’t pander to the gay stereotype that we’re all familiar with, either as the kooky sidekick or tragic figure, which was a major selling point for Donnelly.
“What’s interesting about this piece is that it’s about the joy of homosexuality. It celebrates same sex unions. That’s what appealed to me because it’s like, ‘Yeah! We progressed!’ Sure, there are still challenges and the fight for equality will go on, but there’s been amazing strides and victories and Standing on Ceremony addresses that. It addresses the excitement of getting married as well as the challenges of a lifelong commitment.”
Since the play is based around vignettes, the themes can shift in tone, which spoke to Donelly as well.
“A couple of the pieces are hysterically funny. There are a couple pieces that are poignant. In fact, the piece by Moises Kaufman is set at a cemetery and an older man who was partnered for 43 years and his partner died before they had a chance to get married. It’s very bittersweet and it also poses the question if gay people get married after being together for 20, 30, 40 years, does that mean the years beforehand didn’t count?
The philosophical questions continued for Donnelly who, despite identifying as heterosexual, saw a lot of herself and relationships in the storylines.
“It also asks, ‘Is marriage important?’” says Donnelly. “Is it important because it’s not possible? As people we seem to covet what we don’t have. My boyfriend always jokes that the only people who will benefit from gay marriage are the attorneys. I can’t predict the future, but I think that when you get something that you could never have, you treasure it. Maybe this first round of same sex marriages will get it right. But, we are so flawed as human beings, of course there will be divorces, but this first round will pass something on. That’s the hope.”
Standing on Ceremony also addresses the anxieties involved with marriage. “It addresses the fear that everyone has when they’re getting married, wondering ‘Is this the right thing?’” she says.
Standing on Ceremony even takes the risk of including technology (one vignette is centered around a heated Facebook debate) as well as a voice of opposition. “There is one piece where a woman speaks out against gay marriage,” says Donnelly. “She is a right wing Christian and, of course, she is portrayed as an ass because she is a huge ass, but she talks about having many gay friends. This is a woman who won’t let anyone touch her hair except for her gay hairdresser, but she doesn’t believe her hairdresser should be able to get married. She’s this huge bigot and throughout the piece she manages to insult gays, Muslims, and Chinese. It’s funny, but it also takes the risk of being from another point of a view, instead of nine vignettes saying ‘Gay marriage is great!’ It brings in the controversy. It’s not just a puff piece.”
For Donnelly, the controversy and edge is what makes West Coast Players a theater she had to work with. “We will do traditional plays to bring in the money so that we can do plays that are colorful, wild or maybe even a little raunchy,” she explains. We want to take risk. We may fail, but we want to try. That is what really drew me to the company.”
The upcoming season will have some mainstream pieces (Donnelly is not shy about the admitting money is crucial to the theatre), but those pieces are there primarily so the theater can maintain artistic integrity. There is also a level of devotion that Donnelly sees in the West Coast Players that isn’t always present.
“In community theatre, most people are involved because it doesn’t cost them any money,” she says. “In another company I had an actor say to me ‘Oh, I do this because golf is too expensive’. But here we’ve made personal sacrifices so we can do the things we want to do and not what the general population might want.”
For Donnelly, that makes West Coast Players unique.
“To be honest, I have never worked with a group of people like this before.”