nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 22, 2006
Regrets Only, Paul Rudnick's new play, is the fizzy, wise-cracking entertainment you'd expect—a delightfully diverting comedy that is certainly the playwright's best work since Jeffrey. With expert actresses Christine Baranski and Jackie Hoffman on hand to deliver the one-liners with razor-sharp timing and George Grizzard providing emotional grounding and soul in the play's central role—not to mention Michael Yeargan's oh-so-chic apartment setting and William Ivey Long's high fashion creations—the production at Manhattan Theatre Club, staged with assurance by longtime Rudnick collaborator Christopher Ashley, is simply splendid.
The bonus is that, underneath the glittery name-dropping and catty put-downs, Rudnick has an authentically interesting and surprising story to tell: yes, even the ultra-glamorous and wealthy can be real people, and that's precisely what they are (most of the time) in this aptly-titled play that is as much a meditation on squandered riches as it is a comedy of manners among the upper crust.
The play revolves around Hank Hadley, an enormously famous, well-respected, and successful fashion designer (I'm hearing that he's modeled on Bill Blass). Hank's longtime partner—he'd never publicly call him a lover; and they never lived together, so companion seems like the wrong term here as well—has recently died, and after months in relative seclusion, he's returning to society, at the home of his best friends, Jack and Tibby McCullough. The McCulloughs are very rich and very social: he's a prominent attorney and she's a fashion plate who lives for parties and benefits. Jack and Hank knew and liked each other long before either met Tibby. Now, Tibby and Hank are devoted best friends and Tibby and Jack are happily married, with Hank acting as Tibby's frequent escort when Jack is too busy or too uninterested to make an appearance at this or that social event. Rudnick and his actors (David Rasche as Jack, and Baranski and Grizzard as Tibby and Hank) delineate the nature of this strong, deep friendship among three grown-ups with great care, intelligence, and complexity.
The relationship among them is severely tested, though, when Jack gets a call, out of the blue, from President George W. Bush. The chief executive wants Jack to help him draft a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Jack is, naturally, flattered and thrilled by this opportunity; but Hank, who has never been politically inclined, has a problem with it, and Tibby finds herself caught in the middle. The McCulloughs' daughter Spencer, who is also a lawyer and has just announced her own impending wedding (for which she wants Hank to design her a gown), tries to help her elders sort through the resulting morass in a scene that's at once very funny and very thought-provoking. Even though it's clear that Rudnick wants us to side with Hank, everybody has a point here: gay marriage—especially viewed in the context of all long-term relationships, sanctioned or not and sexual or not—is not a black-and-white issue, and that's a good deal of Rudnick's point here.
The play's second act veers off into somewhat silly territory for a while, which is unfortunate: on the eve of Spencer's wedding, Hank decides to lead his gay brethren and sisteren in a one-day strike that sabotages the event. (There's apparently a movie called Wedding Wars coming this month to A&E, with more or less the same premise: coincidence or zeitgeist?) It would have been better if Rudnick had transcended stereotypes here, for the jokes are all about Broadway shows having to shut down (except for a lone Mamet play) and all the hair dressers and florists being unavailable. The play would be subtler and smarter if construction workers and secretaries and truck drivers and what-have-you also were part of the boycott.
But Rudnick pulls it back together fairly neatly to give the play a reasonably sharp and satisfying ending. For dipping his toes as much as he does in such controversial waters—and for doing so with maturity and forthrightness—the playwright deserves our admiration.