I wanted to find a deeper message in Paul Rudnick’s play “Regrets Only” now playing at RTP, but Director, Jerry Williams chided me that it just isn’t there. “It is a silly, flighty drawing room comedy. It ain’t deep,” Williams said during a phone interview last week. Well, fine, Jerry! But I will argue that the premise of the play, the argument for gay marriage is an important topic. The fact that Rudnick just might have hidden a deeper message under the thin veneer of shallow arguments and definitions of marriage is beside the point.
The action centers around society maven, Tibby McCullough (Melissa Johnston Price) and her BFF, a gay fashion designer named Hank Hadley (Joe Pabst). Tibby is as out of reality as a woman can be, totally focused on looks and charity events. She and Hank love to go to these events, see and be seen and dish on all the society folks afterwards. The play opens when Hank arrives at Tibby’s swank New York apartment, (gorgeously designed by David Allan Ballas) his first outing since the death of his long-time partner. While Hank and Tibby are planning which charity events to attend that evening, Tibby’s husband, Jack (Michael Hawk) and daughter, Spencer (Liz Blake), take a job working for President George W. Busch, writing policy defining marriage as an institution appropriate strictly for a man and a woman. A touchy conversation begins, periodically interrupted by the McCullough’s eccentric maid, Myra Kesselman (Jacqueline O’Connor). Hilarity ensues.
So here I go looking for meaning…
“What is up with the maid’s character?”, I wondered. At first I found her interruptions annoying as she would pop in at odd points in the play pretending to be some new incarnation of herself, at one point Irish at another a red neck woman and so on. Then right at a critical point in a discussion about the gay marriage, she enters stage left with a black cloth over her head and a rosary in her hands like a nun. She then begins a schtick about being a bride of Christ. I thought the timing interesting. It is often the religious right contingent that most violently opposes gay marriage, yet by strictly defining marriage as a state of union attainable only by a man and a woman the government would be disengaging a marriage sanctioned by the Christian church- that sacred union, a marriage, between nuns and Jesus. I found the irony quite poignant but Williams insisted I was reaching too far for Rudnick’s style. He went on to explain that the actress who originated the role was a friend of Rudnick’s and that he wrote her in to give her something fun to do. Whatever.
However, I admit, Williams has a point in that the fluff was piled on pretty thick. One of Tibby’s most important lines in the play is, “I want the biggest Drag Queen in the world to say, ‘Honey, too much!’.” It summarizes her most cherished goal in life which is to always be the image of a Hank Hadley ad. (Sort of like my goal to be the woman in the Ralph Lauren, Chanel or Calvin Klein ad. I totally understand that about Tibby. In fact when I lived in New York, if I was having a bad day I would go up to the Ralph Lauren flagship store and walk around a la Holly Golightly at Tiffany’s thinking, “Nothing bad could possibly happen to me here in Ralph world.” But I digress.)
To drive William’s point even further, Rudnick’s definition of marriage offered through Spencer, a lawyer, is as lame as they come. Spencer, representing the law here, defines marriage as co-habitating people who are sexually faithful to each other and have children together. God forbid all those people who are married with out children or are married without living in the same house or have dallied with sexual partners outside of their marriage for whatever reasons are not actually married! Anyway, you get the point.
Then, Hank decides to do something about the situation and starts a nation wide “gay stay home day” in an effort to what? Maybe show oblivious straight people how important gays are to our lives? (Like who doesn’t know that already?) All Broadway shows are shut down, there are no florists or hairdressers or key people in the government. It is all so meaningless in terms of the gay marriage issue except that Spencer’s wedding is in danger of not happening because of the lack of gays to put it on. Someone figure that one out and get back to me, please.
“There are definitely flaws in the structure but it is really funny,” Williams retorted.
He is right. There were several side splitters in the script.
Pabst and Price have a scintillating chemistry, so much so it is difficult to believe this is their first show together. They each toss out pithy one liners with the poise and finesse of regular sparring partners often sending the audience into peels of laughter. Although the rest of the cast are adept in their roles, the reason to see the play is the PP dynamic.
In a show with fashion as such a strong theme, costumes are very important. They were very good but D. Mark Souza’s creations failed to reach the mark of Haute high fashion one might expect from a Hank Hadley design. I suspect much of this had to do with budget rather than talent, however. A standout design is Tibby’s red gown she wears at the opening of the show. The styling and details demonstrated creativity and class. Spencer’s wedding gown is also quite beautiful in its elegance.
Regardless of the presence or lack of message, the structure issues and the questionable appearances of Myra the maid, “Regrets Only” is a laugh filled frolic into the surface existence of New York high society- and after these last few years of belt tightening for so many, who couldn’t use a little of that? Plus if you miss it you might also miss out on the ever important message given by Tibby’s mother, Marietta Claypoole (Donna van Winkle) when she advises everyone to marry a gay person.
Like Williams told me (quoting movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn in his second sentence), “It is a very funny play and people will laugh. If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”
But I prefer Tibby’s last line of the play better to summarize why one should go see “Regrets Only”:
“I WANT CAKE!”
…and cake it is, sweet, calorie filled, void of brain food yet satisfying.
Go get yourself a slice.
For more information on Richmond Triangle Players production of “Regrets Only” click here.