By Dana Casadei
To kick off its 91st season, the Village Players of Birmingham are doing a show a bit unlike anything they’ve done before.
“Regrets Only,” written by Paul Rudnick, will be the company’s first openly gay show they’ve produced since their founding in 1923. The company has done shows before that had gay characters or innuendoes, but nothing of this caliber.
“I don’t think it was because they never wanted to do it, but I think they’re just coming more into play now,” said Michael Gravame, the show’s producer and a member of the company’s artistic board. “In the last ten years, more shows have been written with openly gay themes than before.”
The 2006 play centers around a powerhouse attorney, his socialite wife and her dearest friend, a gay fashion designer who recently lost his partner. When Jack, the attorney, agrees to consult with President Bush on the drafting of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, the trio must question their relationships with each other, and re-define what makes a marriage. And what makes a friendship. Add into the mix a daughter’s engagement, death and even more questioning – and the result is a drawing room comedy perfect for modern-day audiences.
The show covers some heavy topics, but it is in fact a comedy, which played a part in why it’s opening the Village Players’ season. “You always want to open with a musical or a comedy,” Gravame said.
Originally the play was going to be in the middle of the company’s season, but after finding out that other theater groups were doing huge musicals to kick off theirs, Village Players decided to switch it up. Gravame said they knew that musicals would take away some of their talented players – so cue the situational comedy with a message!
The show is not done in a preachy way or in a “we’re going to educate the non-educated” way, Gravame said. It just enlightens it in a comedic “what if” way. “It’s so funny that the show’s set in 2006 and we’re presenting it where 13 states have adapted marriage equality and that California passed the marriage act,” he said. “It’s so relevant that we’re doing this show right smack in the midst of all these headlines that are just hitting so close to home.”
The themes of the show will not only hit home for some of its audience members, but also its director, Carl Jones. “I was really compelled by – first of all – the issue behind the plot, second the comedy of the story, and the third part of it is just the way it deals with relationships and marriage in general,” Jones said.
The show also has a personal connection for the director.
“The real icing on the cake is that one of my sons is gay, and he’s been with his partner for about four years,” Jones said. “Of course they’ve been somewhat frustrated with the fact of where they can live and find the rights that they believe they should have and be allowed to have an open relationship.”
Jones, who has been with the Village Players for 10 years, has been able to see firsthand the impact this struggle has on those he cares about. “I think it’s a story that needs to be told,” he said.
Jones mentioned that this show isn’t one that’s produced often, and that it’s kind of a sensitive subject for some community theaters. And professional theaters want more blockbuster-type shows (with all their bells and whistles). Given all that, “Regrets Only” is a much more intimate show, which is great for a smaller venue like the Village Players. Luckily for Jones, the theater’s board eagerly accepted the show for its 2013-14 season.
It’s also a show where audiences will be challenged, and hopefully open up to discussing gay marriage. “I like doing shows that challenge the audience to think for themselves through the material,” Jones said. “If we don’t engage in a conversation with people that really need to see this show, for example, we can’t go anywhere. It’s all based on that open conversation and dialogue. We have to keep up with that.”
With that open discussion, Jones hopes this show will eventually be able to be seen as a historical document of the struggle for marriage equality. Discussing this with his son and his partner, and his friends, they said they would like a life that’s the same as everyone else’s – without any consideration of being different.
“I would love to see it get to the point in our society where it’s (gay marriage) something that just is the way it is,” Jones said.
In the future, the show may become irrelevant – or maybe seen as a form of fiction. That’d be kind of nice, wouldn’t it?
Village Players, 34660 Woodward Ave., Birmingham. 8 p.m. Sept. 13, 14, 20, 21 and 2 p.m. Sept. 15, 22. $17. 248-644-2075. http://www.birminghamvillageplayers.com