The Pursuit of Happiness: It's Alive and Well in Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at Cleveland Public Theatre 

You may not be aware that the state of Ohio is working on a new slogan to replace "The heart of it all." And if you're a gay person in Ohio who is in a committed relationship, you may not be aware that Ohio has a heart at all. That's because our roughly heart-shaped territory is one of the few remaining states that hasn't made same-sex marriages legal within its borders.

That unpleasant fact is the backdrop for Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, now at Cleveland Public Theatre. It is a somewhat revamped production of the show that CPT presented in 2012, and the timing couldn't be better. With the U.S. Supreme Court scheduled to hear cases on same-sex marriage on April 28, now is the time for those supporting the cause to re-energize themselves and their allies.

And this play, directed with energy and style by Craig J. George, does exactly that, through huge dollops of humor and a couple emotional interludes that make clear why marriage rights are so important. The show is a collection of nine mini-plays by eight well-respected playwrights; humorist, playwright and screenwriter Paul Rudnick authors two, and thank god for that. While not all nine are equally effective, they pack a wallop when seen together in a format conceived by Brian Shnipper.

The initial pieces in the first and second acts, as well as the final work, deal specifically with the wedding ceremony, the one thing most gay couples have never fully experienced. In the lead-off and perhaps shortest play, Jordan Harrison's The Revision sketches out how two guys are working over their vows for the upcoming nuptials. The wording gets complicated and comical as Nate (Val Kozlenko) and Wallace (Marr O'Shea) try to resolve various issues.

At the start of Act 2, Liz and Cate are also discussing the ceremony, with Cate (Beth Wood) being a traditionalist and Liz (Molly Andrews-Hinders) a resolved rebel. As Cate describes it, Liz wants a "clown, vampire, car show" wedding. Liz also has a disapproving family, but in this piece by Mo Gaffney, the two women work out their issues the family way.

As Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, recently said at a Cleveland City Club forum, communicating the human side of this controversial topic is how minds have been changed. And since there is nothing more human than the ability to laugh at ourselves, SoC is laced with comedy.

Two of the funniest pieces, by Rudnick, feature Maryann Elder as a dyed-in-the-polyester, right-wing "family values" advocate, and then as an overly competitive mom of a gay son. In the first, The Gay Agenda, she's been hearing gay voices in her head after a gay couple moved in next door. She thinks gay people are taking over, even though her conservative hubby thinks God "created gay people as a crafts project."

In the second, Elder is an overbearing Jewish mother who wants her gay son to marry an attractive and successful guy so she can one-up her friends with grown and married gay children. Elder is a polished actor and consistently funny, although she sometimes plays her one-note characters a bit too floridly, especially at the start of each piece.

Only one play clunks, as On Facebook by Doug Wright mashes up a series of Facebook messages on the gay marriage topic. It only succeeds in trotting out a string of tired stereotypes that aren't even interesting as historical artifacts.

The more serious aspects are expressed in plays by Neil LaBute and Moises Kaufman. In LaBute's Strange Fruit, Tom and Jerry meet cute, but there is no happily ever after. The title references the Billie Holiday song, written by Abel Meeropol, and it makes perfect, tragic sense.

Kaufman's effort, London Mosquitoes, is a eulogy being given by Joe, who has lost his partner Paul. It's the most complex and ambitious of the short plays, and Dana Hart wisely underplays the emotion. The fact that these two men decided not to marry after being together for 46 years reveals another facet of the right-to-marry debate: the right of two people not to marry because that decision means more to them.

And that's the crux of the issue, having the right to make the decision that is proper for the two people involved. This June, the Supreme Court will announce its decision. With a little luck — and lots of hard work — that's when Ohio will be given, even against its will, a much-needed heart transplant.


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