Paul Rudnick’s newest play Regrets Only, a modern day social comedy set in a lavish Manhattan penthouse is jam packed with hysterical dialogue and witty one liners. There are many madcap moments in his new comedy, which takes on topics like friendship and gay marriage, but the evening fails to engage with thought provoking relevance. Mr. Rudnick, who won awards for his early play Jeffrey and had an Off Broadway hit with The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, is a very funny playwright, indeed, but his work about political awakening with characters boarding on caricature is unfortunately underdeveloped.
The story unfolds when a wealthy married socialite Tibby McCullough (Christine Baranski) is preparing for a night on the town with her best friend, a legendary closeted gay fashion designer Hank Hadley (George Grizzard). Hank has recently lost his companion of nearly 40 years and is evaluating his life. When Tibby’s husband Jack (David Rasche), a high powered attorney, returns home and announces he has been enlisted by President Bush to come to Washington D.C. to help draft a proposed anti gay marriage constitutional amendment, Tibby and Hank are catapulted into evaluating their 40 year friendship. When the McCullough’s daughter Spencer (Diane Davis), who just that evening became engaged, decides to join her father and postpone her wedding the first act set up is complete.
The second act puts into motion all sorts of zany situations that arise on the day of Spencer’s wedding, when all gay people go on strike to amusingly dire results. The walk out has been arranged by Hank and for approximate 15 minutes act II works beautifully as acute political and social satire. Spencer is thrown into a tizzy as there are no florists on the day of her wedding, no dressmakers, and no hairstylists. When Tibby’s elegant mother Marietta Claypoole (Sian Phillips) makes her second act entrance encased in plastic garbage bags sporting shoeboxes on her feet instead of stylish shoes, the evening is at a highpoint. Not only is Marietta a victim of a gay fashion boycott, but she can’t get tickets to see any Broadway musicals either because the casts are out as well.
The clever concept holds great promise for outrageous high jinks, but the results turn decidedly tame as the playwright is quite content at stretching his bright idea under broadly conceived characters spouting his delicious dialogue. Since these rather one dimensional people behave in unrealistic ways, it is difficult to become involved with them or feel much empathy for their plight. Granted we go along for the laughs and have a good time in the process, but to what end? A serious issue, gay marriage, has been merely touched on not fully considered.
Further complicating matters, the Manhattan Theatre Club Production crisply directed by Christopher Ashley never decides if it wants to be a hip social comedy or an extravagant farce. The evening manages to succeed on both accounts, but feels schizophrenic without living in either world. The jostling back and forth between the two makes for a rather bumpy ride.
The vivacious cast makes a valiant effort to infuse the proceedings with more life than actually exists with mixed results. Christine Baranski is an absolute riot bringing layers to her characterization of the shallow socialite that aren’t readily apparent. Her delivery of the Rudnick zingers is simply marvelous as she adds a depth that is missing from the rest of the evening. Sian Phillips as her mother beautifully embodies the out of sink jaded sophistication of Marietta with a stylishly hilarious performance. Grizzard enlightens Hank’s challenge with added dimensions as he contemplates and ultimately realizes the cost of having lived a less than honest, closeted life.
David Rasche as the attorney Jack and Diane Davis as his hysterical daughter Spencer are less successful. Jack comes off as little more than a slick stereotype and Spencer is just another rich neurotic spoiled brat.
Mary Testa as the McCullough’s Jewish maid Myra is in a class of her own, since she isn’t asked to create a character or relate directly to the action. She pops in and out spouting different accents wearing various outfits for little or no reason except to inject comic adrenaline jolts.
The beautifully designed evening has a handsome set by Michael Yeargan and smart costumes by William Ivey Long.
Although Mr. Rudnick’s latest comedy scores high on the laugh track meter, the evening fails to satisfy with meaningful heartfelt theatre.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
Regrets Only is now playing at Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 West 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. To obtain tickets call 212-581-1212 or visit the box office.