Humankind, as T.S. Eliot noted, cannot bear too much reality. Thus was the drawing-room comedy invented. But where the gentilities of the genre once focused on the crustier peccadillos of the British and American upper crust (in the works of Coward and Wilde), REGRETS ONLY, Paul Rudnick's 2006 entry, turns its frivolous attentions to gay marriage and other long-delayed political and social comings-of-age among the Park Avenue set. The uneven result inverts Wilde's alternate title for The Importance of Being Earnest. It's a serious comedy about trivial people.
Hank Hadley (robust Rick Meadows), the most accomplished fashion designer in New York, is just emerging from months of mourning after the passing of his long-term partner when he's confronted with an inconvenient fact. Jack (a game Michael Brocki), the husband of Hank's party partner and confidante, Tibby (veteran Lynda Clark), has been summoned to the White House by President Bush to craft a constitutional ban on marriage equality. Up to now, Hank and Tibby have been narcissistically apolitical—and are encouraged to remain that way by Jack and Tibby's daughter, Spencer (sparkling Lori Ingle Taylor).
You can imagine how well that advice goes down. Rudnick's script is simply riddled with devastating comebacks, quips and one-liners—a saving grace for a work whose deadly political earnestness balances on a sometimes forced lightheartedness, as Dylan once put it, like a mattress on a bottle of wine.
Given the level of achievement among this top-drawer cast, there are few theatrical missteps here. Clark graces Thomas Mauney's sumptuous set in drop-dead gorgeous costumes by Susan Smith and Shawn Stewart-Larson, as Taylor gratifyingly morphs into a true bridezilla. Director Ira David Wood IV seems uncertain only when it comes to Cameron West's role as Myra, the ever-wisecracking and upstaging maid.
Six years after its premiere, marriage equality continues to be bitterly fought to the doors of the Supreme Court—and, in Alabama, apparently beyond. Regrets Only gamely tries to sugar its clumsy proselytizing with a bevy of well-written japes. We're weeks away from a potential Supreme Court decision. Perhaps it will be easier to smile when this particular war is over.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Imperfect Recall"