Actor Bryan Batt and his partner, events planner Tom Cianfichi, have been together for 23 years. The two thought about getting married in California when Batt was playing Sal Romano on Mad Men, but the illness of the actor’s mother and the passage of Proposition 8 scuttled their plans.
Batt still isn’t certain if he and Cianfichi will get married — “What happens to all that time before?” he muses about the issue of anniversaries — but he is a passionate advocate for national recognition of that right.
“This is the last bastion of civil rights. It’s legalized prejudice against gay people,” he says.
The struggle for marriage equality informs each of the pieces in Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, a collection of nine short plays that will be presented Thursday through Sunday in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
Batt is one of the guest stars in City Theatre’s presentation of the plays, which are performed scripts-in-hand, just like such plays as The Exonerated and Love, Loss and What I Wore. Actor and head Oscar telecast writer Bruce Vilanch is also coming to Fort Lauderdale to do the show, with other roles played by Summer Shorts cast members Stephen Trovillion and Elizabeth Dimon along with Christopher De Paola, Elena Maria Garcia, Elizabeth Price and Nicole Henry. City Theatre’s John Manzelli will direct the show.
The nine plays are as stylistically different as their authors. Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright has crafted the clever On Facebook, a play based on an actual conversation thread. Paul Rudnick, whom Wright calls “the funniest man on the planet,” wrote two plays: The Gay Agenda (about a “nice” and extremely prejudiced woman) and My Husband (about a guy whose mother takes her pro-gay marriage stance to absurdist lengths).
The other plays are Jordan Harrison’s The Revision, Wendy MacLeod’s This Flight Tonight, Neil LaBute’s Strange Fruit, Mo Gaffney’s A Traditional Wedding, Moisés Kaufman’s London Mosquitoes and José Rivera’s Pablo & Andrew at the Altar of Words.
Wright, whose Pulitzer-winning I Am My Own Wife will be produced by Zoetic Stage at Miami’s Arsht Center next season, is married to singer-songwriter David Clement. They wed four years ago and have been together for a decade. Wright recalls a drive the couple took from New York to Vermont, passing through Connecticut and Massachusetts along the way.
“David turned to me and said, ‘We’ve been married for the last four contiguous states,’ ” Wright says, pointing out the still-limited territory in which gay marriage is recognized.
Says Batt: “I think it should be a right everywhere. I shouldn’t have to travel to get married.”
Rudnick, who says he’s “wildly in favor of gay marriage,” has been with his partner, John Raftis, for nearly 20 years. The playwright-essayist, whose plays include Jeffrey, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, I Hate Hamlet and The New Century, says the two aren’t sure whether marriage is right for them.
“We ping-pong. We’re fine as we are,” he says. “Sometimes it seems that, if you’re a good, card-carrying gay man or lesbian woman, you’d better get married just to make the point or to say thank you to President Obama.”
Rudnick says he and Raftis have been to lots of gay weddings, and that traditions don’t always translate.
“When two brides wear gowns, that can be a little competitive,” he says. “While gay men in matching tuxedos can look like waiters.”
Though he’s one of the country’s great humorists, Rudnick is stone-cold serious when he talks about the impetus behind his play The Gay Agenda.
“A lot of [people] will say terrible things and condemn gay people to hell, but then they’ll add, ‘But we don’t hate anybody,’ ” he says. “They’ve been coached to put their bigotry across with a lot of sugar-coating.”
As funny, touching and enlightening as Standing on Ceremony is, the short Broward Center run is art with a purpose. A portion of the ticket price will benefit Equality Florida.
Cast members, Manzelli, The Miami Herald’s Gay South Florida blogger Steve Rothaus and Equality Florida’s Tobias Packer will have a short question-and-answer session after Thursday’s opening night performance, which will be followed (as will all performances) by a reception with wedding cake. After Sunday’s show, Vilanch will serve as grand marshal of the Stonewall Summer Pride Twilight Parade through Wilton Manors.
While those involved in Standing On Ceremony acknowledge that they’ll be “preaching to the choir” with many audience members, Vilanch suggests inviting friends who don’t have an opinion on gay marriage to see the show.
“People think that gay marriage is some strange impulse to imitate the ‘real’ world,” he says. “It’s born of a harsh reality.”
Vilanch, who played Edna Turnblad in Hairspray on tour and on Broadway, says he isn’t married and doesn’t have a partner, but he wants those options.
“It’s ironic, I know, that I’m not in a relationship,” he says with a laugh. “That’s why I’m coming to Florida — to have an open call [for a boyfriend].”