It sounded like an impossible task: Write a play about gay marriage that can only have a few characters. Oh, and make it about 10 minutes long.
Such was the mission for nine playwrights that included Neil LaBute, Paul Rudnick, Doug Wright and Moises Kaufman. They'd been asked to write micro plays that were being compiled as "Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays."
"It's a technical challenge on a lot of levels — you really want to land your points, you want to make your characters as full as possible and as quickly as possible. I enjoy that. There's almost a sort of comedy mathematics to it," says Rudnick, who wrote the plays "I Hate Hamlet" and "Jeffrey."
The resulting show begins previews at the Minetta Lane Theatre on Nov. 7 with an official opening night set for Nov. 13. Producers will donate a portion of all ticket sales to Freedom to Marry and other organizations promoting marriage equality.
The other playwrights are Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Jeffrey Hatcher, Wendy MacLeod and Jose Rivera. The cast includes Tony Award-winner Beth Leavel ("The Drowsy Chaperone"), Richard Thomas ("Race"), Craig Bierko ("The Music Man"), Mark Consuelos (TV's "All My Children"), Polly Draper ("thirtysomething") and Harriet Harris ("Thoroughly Modern Millie").
Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson, who married his partner in New York last month, says he and members of his group are excited to have such a high level of talent involved and he hopes the work will spark conversation.
"I had the luck of finding my partner and being able to get married here where I live this year, but so many couples still can't do that and so many parents are not yet getting to dance at their kids' wedding," Wolfson says. "I want that for everyone. And that's what this kind of evening hopefully will help move us toward."
Producers plan a special evening when "Standing on Ceremony" debuts in New York. That night, more than 40 theaters in 25 states will also perform the play. An introduction and a post-performance Q&A will be streamed live from the Minetta Lane Theatre.
For the playwrights — who have collectively amassed two Pulitzer Prizes, four Obies, one Emmy Award and three Tony nominations — writing short and yet exploring such a big topic as gay marriage was daunting.
"The thing that I think was most challenging was not knowing what the other writers were tackling in their own work. I wanted to write a piece that addressed the issue without being redundant. Writing in a vacuum that way was very challenging," says Wright, who won a Pulitzer for "I Am My Own Wife" and adapted his latest small play from an actual Facebook thread.
"When I saw all the pieces together, I was stunned. I guess it's emblematic of what playwrights do — we're more interested in the human heart than we are any issue per se. And so many of the plays certainly speak to the heart of the issue but they also go beyond it to talk about the very nature of love and what it means to live in this very particular, very exotic culture."
The plays, which made their debut in Los Angeles earlier this year and now have an open-ended run off-Broadway, come a few months after New York's decision to legalize gay marriage and the debut on Broadway of "8," a play about the legal battle over same-sex marriage in California by Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.
Two groups that oppose gay marriage — New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom and the California-based Protect Marriage — did not respond to requests for comment.
Wright says the collection of short plays at the Minetta Lane will be very different from "8," which relied on court transcripts. "I think the palette of our evening is a really broad one because nine very different writers are bringing their own quirky sensibilities and their own life experiences to bear on the topic," he says.
Consuelos, who is married to "Live With Regis and Kelly" star Kelly Ripa, says he joined the project to help promote gay marriage in the 44 states where it is currently outlawed.
As a parent to three children, he says, "It's to show them that I stand for something. One group of people shouldn't be discriminated against. And whenever that happens, to me that's when it becomes a moral issue."
The plays range from cute to funny, moving to sarcastic. Rudnick wrote two pieces that illustrate the range: In one, a mother gently nags her son about tying the knot on the afternoon that gay marriage is made legal and in the other, "The Gay Agenda," an Ohio homemaker and member of the anti-marriage group Focus on the Family tries to explain her position.
"One of the benefits of an evening like this, of an assortment, is you get so many voices and points of view. So some of the plays are heartbreaking and some of them are more comic; some of them are just delicious. It's always surprising, which I think sometimes is rare in the theater," says Rudnick.
Kaufman, the author of plays such as "33 Variations" and "The Laramie Project" with other members of Tectonic Theater Project, took another direction, writing a poignant story in which a widower tries to make sense of the loss of his longtime lover.
"It's a joyful time for us but it's also a time that allows for a lot of thinking and evaluating where we've been and where we're going," says the playwright. "So I think it's an evening that provides a great deal of joy and also a great deal of insight."
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