Theatre Department presents “Standing on Ceremony”

Scene one: the North Carolina Congressional debate over gay marriage is in full swing. The air is heavy with tension. Rights are at risk. Ideals are challenged. The air becomes cloudy with a thick fog of discord. A vote is announced. The room goes silent.

Enter stage right: Guilford College.

Thanks to the Guilford College Theatre Department, on Nov. 7, Sternberger Auditorium became the home of “Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays,” a production composed of ten short plays centered on the subject of gay marriage.

Guilford’s production was one of 43 events nationwide, all performed in conjunction with the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York City, which streamed a live introduction before the show and Q&A afterwards. These plays are the products of a slew of acclaimed playwrights, including Paul Rudnick (“I Hate Hamlet”), José Rivera (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and Moisés Kaufman (“The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” and “The Laramie Project”).

“To have both the theatrical creativity and the subject matter that really is on people’s minds, ‘Standing on Ceremony’ is exactly what Guilford should be doing,” said David Hammond, professor of theatre studies and director of the production. “We’re supposed to be socially conscious. We’re supposed to be committed to theater that changes lives.”

This message rings clear, considering the current statewide turmoil over an amendment which seeks to outlaw gay marriage and domestic partnership recognition. The amendment would make North Carolina the last state in the South to do so.

“Art has long been important to politics,” said Associate Professor of Political Science Maria Rosales. “When it comes to the representations of marginalized people, art can be even more important since discrimination depends in part on creating marginalized people as less human. Something like a theater production can counter those images and concepts.”

In fact, representatives from Equality NC were present at the Guilford showing, spreading awareness about the upcoming May 8 vote on the amendment.

“All these plays were written to convince people that gay marriage should be legal,” said first-year Ian Sweet, an actor in the plays. “Each of these plays provides a perspective that encourages that.”

Indeed, the portrayal of perspectives was the key force which fueled these plays from start to finish. The production commenced with a play about two men writing their civil partnership vows in order to highlight their limited relationship rights, which traditional marriage vows do not accurately convey.

“The plays took a two-pronged approach in their portrayal of gay marriage,” said junior and Pride member Taylor Seitz. “They presented the unfair difficulty and discrimination that LGBT couples face when trying to get married, and show that, on the inside, gay relationships aren’t really that different from straight relationships.”

“Standing on Ceremony” also chronicles a hysterical and über-liberal mother’s inflated relationship hopes for her gay son. It incites contemplation on a couple’s worries over their son’s sexuality and pursuit of a partner. Furthermore, it relates a heart-wrenching story about a 45-year relationship cut short after a tragedy on the night of their “official” marriage ceremony. These are just a few of the, at times, sidesplitting and, other times, emotionally shocking plays.

“To a lot of people, there’s gay marriage and there’s straight marriage,” said Sweet. “This play kind of throws in your face a lot of that. It’s just marriage, and a gay couple isn’t going to go through an entirely different experience just because they’re gay.”

When asked what she hopes the audience took away from the plays, junior Lizzie Fistel, who acted in the plays, commented, “Just a better understanding of the subject … It’s not something we always think about or at least have the opportunity to understand necessarily, because we are so often outside of that perspective.”

The climax of the production came during “London Mosquitoes,” a monologue in the form of a moving eulogy, which transformed the audience into funeral attendees privy to a man’s poignant recounting of his deceased partner’s life.

After such a heart-rending experience, there was no doubt of the power this play held for the audience.

As for Hammond’s perspective, he says, “It’s both good art and serious subject matter that demands attention.”

And what better way to demand attention than through art? The Guilford College production of “Standing on Ceremony” undoubtedly grabbed attention, holding it long after the play’s conclusion.