FRONT ROW CENTER – November 2009


By Michael Warren

Regrets Only
By Paul Rudnick
Directed by Barbara Clippinger


front-rowIf all you require from the theater is a superb set, glamorous costumes and some witty one-liners, Regrets Only will send you home happy. If you want to see a good play, you may have regrets. Paul Rudnick, a successful writer of humorous screenplays, here attempts the difficult task of mixing quips with a serious message. Oscar Wilde maintained that the only way to be serious was to be utterly frivolous. Rudnick fails to take Wilde’s advice and has his superficial Manhattan socialites tell us what to think about a current social issue—gay marriage.

On the plus side, there are some accomplished performances by a talented cast. Diana Rowland (“Tibby McCullough”) plays a smart and wealthy woman whose life is mainly devoted to clothes and menus. She delivers her zingers with marvelous aplomb—“Is it chilly? Do I need a bracelet?” Her best friend is “Hank Hadley”—a successful and gentlemanly dress designer who is gay and whose partner of many years has just died of cancer. Russell Mack plays Hank with a certain dignity, though I felt that his supposedly deep friendship with Tibby didn’t really come across. Things become complicated when Tibby’s lawyer husband “Jack” (played by Pat Carroll) is asked by the President to draft a constitutional amendment effectively banning gay marriage. At this point the zingers cease and the play begins to sag.

Some of the characters appear to have arrived from the set of a different play. Jeritza McCarter has a wonderful time as the wacky maid “Myra” and steals every scene in which she appears. Indeed, we have to wonder who irons the sheets and loads the dishwasher in this house. Although Jeritza is terrific, it is probably a sign of the playwright’s desperation that he has to amuse us with a zany character like Myra. Also, while Pat Carroll puts in his usual dependable performance, he seems out of place amidst these glitzy socialites—it’s hard to believe that Jack is actually married to Tibby. Florette Schnell is sweet and appealing as their daughter “Spencer” who is about to be married – I would like to see Florette cast in a more challenging role. So far she has appeared only in Dancing At Lughnasa and in this show. Joyce Vath—Tibby’s mother “Marietta Claypool”—delivers a delightful cameo performance in the second act, which is prolonged by the necessity of seeing her change out of a garbage-bag outfit into a very smart dress for Spencer’s wedding. And of course we have to see Spencer looking gorgeous in her wedding dress. But, and it’s a big but, the play itself loses momentum when it tries to be meaningful and even the characters hardly seem to believe their lines. Rudnick’s strained comedy is no asset to gay activism—today, with Obama replacing Bush, the play already seems silly and dated.

Barbara Clippinger and her cast almost bring off a miracle, making a success out of a poor play, and she also improves it with some smart touches—I have to mention Ed Tasca (Dog-walker) and the adorable dog (“S’koocha”) who of course plays herself. It is a neat idea to mark the end of the gay work-to-rule by the arrival of gifts and flowers at the beginning of the final scene. The set and wardrobe were wonderful. And congratulations also to Trish Conner (Stage Manager) and all the backstage team who did an excellent job. It was a pleasure to watch such a slick production.

Next up is a good old-fashioned Agatha Christie murder mystery, The Mousetrap. If you don’t already know who the murderer is, I’m not going to tell you!

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