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Short plays land a pro-gay marriage punch in Standing on Ceremony

"I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman." Not all of us are as confused about same-sex marriage as that clumsy 2003 quote by candidate for governor Arnold Schwarzenegger might indicate.

In the entirely non-confused Standing on Ceremony, now at Cleveland Public Theatre, nine short plays by various accomplished playwrights touch on many aspects of the gay marriage conflagration. Directed with crisp precision by Craig J. George on Russ Borski's simple, uncluttered set, this show is not out to provide a balanced debate on the issue.

Concise, sometimes hilarious, and often touching, the pieces find pro-gay marriage truths that need telling. And even if a couple of the vignettes are just skits, and some of the acting a bit forced, the absurdity of denying gay marriage and "reducing the amount of love in the world" comes storming through.

As conceived by Brian Schipper, this collection enables the playwrights to craft small scenes that provide snapshots of people immersed in, tormented by, frolicking amidst, or frustrated with gay marriage.

Paul Rudnick is the only author with two pieces, and that's a very good thing. One of the funniest writers around (he wrote Jeffrey, In and Out, and all the priceless columns by supposed movie critic Libby Gelman-Waxner), Rudnick is an unparalleled quip-master.

In "The Gay Agenda," an Ohio homemaker and member of all the pro-family organizations (including the Aryan Family Freedom Fighters), rages against in incursion of homosexuals into her lifestyle. She points out, "Romantic comedies now all have a sassy gay best friend, they are taking jobs away from black women!"

In that role, Maryann Elder triggers giggles but rushes by some big laughs. She does better in the other Rudnick episode, "My Husband," in which she plays a protective Jewish mama trying to help her gay son get hitched to a competitively attractive and accomplished man.

Perhaps the weakest scene is the first one, "The Revision," by Jordan Harrison, a thin bit of fluff that Stuart Hoffman and Michael Silverstein push too hard. But Hoffman nails his half of "Strange Fruit" by Neil LaBute, in which he and Dana Hart play a perfect gay wedding cake couple recalling a tragic occurrence.

Silverstein and Hoffman also join forces in "Pablo and Andrew at the Altar of Words," where the two men say in their vows what they have never really said before to each other.

Performers Molly Andrews-Hinders and Beth Wood play a lesbian couple in two plays that almost mirror each other. In "This Flight Tonight" by Wendy MacLeod, the women are on their way to Iowa for their wedding. While Woods' Allie is freaked out by impending monogamy, Andrews-Hinders' Hannah talks her down.

And in "A Traditional Wedding" by Mo Gaffney, the same duo discusses the relative virtues of "flower girl" weddings vs. an outré "clown-vampire-car show" matrimonial event.

Actually, the sketches are most affecting when the conversations sound like straight couples talking, demonstrating clearly that the issue is not gender but individuals in love.

This is registered most tellingly in "London Mosquitoes," an elegant monologue by Moises Kaufman and delivered with quiet power by Hart. It's a plain-spoken moment, Joe eulogizing Paul, his partner of 46 years. Among the many tender and funny details of their life, it turns out that the new law allowing gay marriage in New York was painful to Paul in his last year of life.

As Joe relates, "Paul said, 'If we get married now, we'd be having our one year anniversary next year. What would that say about the last 45 years? That we were just messing around?"

Marriage is about history, about commitment, and about human beings. And this play reminds us why it's about time Ohio and other states began recognizing that fact.

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