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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
After spending two hours in the drop-dead Park Avenue penthouse of social butterfly and clotheshorse Tibby McCullough (Christine Baranski) and her ultra successful lawyer husband Jack McCullough (David Rasche), I was reminded of my mother's dessert dinner, a once a year family meal at which she trotted out the best of her repertory of pastries. No salad or main course; just dessert. It was great fun and delicious and probably a nutritionist's nightmare.
Regrets Only, Paul Rudnick's 2006 take on The Philadelphia Story and other Philip Barry comedies of manners is also great fun. It's a visual treat (William Ivey Long makes the actors match the elegance of Michael's Yeargan's decor) and as stuffed with riotous Rudnickisms as my mother's pastries were with sugar and calories.
The audience at Regrets Only often laughs away at least some of Rudnick's witty send ups of fashion and society notables, George W. Bush — and even the Gays and Lesbians whose right to experience the pitfalls as well as the joys of marriage is at the heart of this comedy's more serious concerns. This is not a problem since, for every punch line drowned by audience guffaws, Rudnick has at least four more to dish up. However, as my mother's dessert dinner had to be balanced with a more nourishing year-round diet, Regrets Only's punched-up humor should be the appetizer, seasoning or dessert to enrich the substantial full course meal it clearly wants to be. Instead the zingers dominate and zap the meaningful political comedy so that it never has a chance to make its points interestingly or with the same dramatic flair as the show's designers.
Even Rudnick's favorite director, Christopher Ashley, and the play's superb chief comedians — Baranski as the model of the adage that "you can't be too rich or too thin" and Grizzard as her older, gay designer friend— can't do much with this entertaining but regretfully thin blend of comic shtick and satire. Baranski does occasionally manage to make us see that Tibby really have more substance than indicated by lines like " It's a bit chilly out-- do I need a bracelet?" Grizzard is endearing and at times touching as a man filled with genuine regrets about his inability to commit fully to his longstanding relationship, with subtle hints about the slights swallowed by a gay man in a pseudo-liberal world. However, the very valid issues of friendship and marriage are trotted out rather statically, punctuated by a funny but intrusive, and eventually tiresome, one woman chorus/commentator (Jackie Hoffman as the McCullough's one claim to uniqueness, a white, Jewish maid —) Hoffman's shiticky interludes might work well, if not better, as one of her Joe's Pub solo shows.
The friendship between the MCulloughs' and their gay friend, a famous designer named Hank Hadley (Grizzard) is further tested via the Philadelphia Story wedding angle. The bride-to-be is the McCullough's daughter Spencer (a pretty but not very likeable Diane Davis). Her wedding announcement coincides with her dad's being called to Washington to help the President fashion an anti-Gay Marriage amendment so being a lawyer too, she's interrupts her plans for a splashy wedding (in a Hank Hadley gown, naturally) to help him. Hank, having recently lost his long-time companion to cancer, is suddenly politicized and so when it's time for the Act Two wedding, the playwright has dreamt up a different no-show wedding twist — a what if scenario that divests Manhattan of its entire gay population. Like everything else about this play this introduces some pretty funny stuff — including Tibby in a fright wig and her much-married mother (Sian Phillips, in a brief but surprisingly three-dimensional performance) looking imposing even in a garbage bag outfit.
Given the handsome staging and the presence of Broadway veterans like Christine Baranski and George Grizzard, Manhattan Theatre Club clearly hoped to move this from its limited run at its Stage I venue to Broadway. It might have but probably won't. If Mr. Rudnick could have made his dessert menu into a full-featured theatrical meal.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide