Sunday, May 17, 2009

RSVP's Regrets Only

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It was interesting seeing another show at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center. It had been a while . . . probably since the last time that Spiral Theatre had a show there. I was there last night to see RSVP Production’s staging of Regrets Only—a contemporary comedy of manners by Paul Rudnick. The script has a very contemporary Oscar Wilde kind of a feel to it. The story of a world-famous New York City fashion designer is going to feature some rather comical impressions of wealthy people in one of the largest cities in the world. Rudnick presents the family of the fashion designer’s best friend as sympathetically as possible while still pointing out the freakishness of fabulous wealth in a country of great opportunity.

While the characters are all pretty well fleshed out (even if, in some cases, the third dimension on their personalities seems a bit perfunctory) the script plays them pretty close to being rich people stereotypes. There’s a kind of comedy in that which seems a bit overdone. The comically out of touch rich person has been seen onstage for a long time. It can feel a bit weak. The interesting thing about the RSVP production of the play is that . . . whereas the characters in the script lean more in the direction of stereotypes, the characters as they are performed here are played more as three dimensional people who just happen to inadvertently be following cultural stereotypes in their daily lives. This may sound like a subtle distinction, but it really isn’t.

Patriarchal star lawyer Jack McCullough is written to be a nice guy who doesn’t realize that his political views are actually quite prejudice. Where as the script seems to use this to emphasize how out of touch he is, RSVP’s Jack Haar plays the character without a sense of irony . . . so he doesn’t come off as the stereotype his dialogue might make him out to be . . . so his prejudicial political views come across as convoluted as political views seem offstage. On the one level, this seems to be casting light comedy in heavily serious tones, but on the other hand, it makes the play a lot more interesting to watch than the New York critics were giving an Off-Broadway production of the same play.

Spencer--the aristocratic American princess who is Jack’s daughter is written to be kind of a lesser celebutante . . . sort of a thinking person’s rich girl who is studying law. Here she is in the script announcing her engagement:

SPENCER. Yes! And tonight we met for drinks and suddenly he gets down on one knee and there’s this little velvet box and this ring . . . and this proposal and I was so touched and I just thought—well, why the hell not? . . . And ever since then I’ve gone totally bridezilla. Mummy, I want everything you had, I want St. Patrick’s and at least twelve bridesmaids and thousands of flowers . . . .

And it goes on like that for a while . . . and reading it, you can just hear the pretentious tone of privilege oozing out of it . . . the haughtiness and upper class sense of entitlement . . . but Gloria Loeding plays it with such intense sweetness that its difficult to feel disgusted by her wealth. Loeding is far too pleasantly effervescent to ever come across like a Kardashian—Hiltonoid mannequin prop seen in celebrity gossip. Like Haar’s straight ahead portrayal of an aging East Coast professional, Loeding’s sweetness keeps the character from seeming entirely stereotypical. As a result, the production has a kind of depth that may not actually be all that prominent in the script. It’s interesting to see that sort of thing play out in the intimate space of the MGAC.

RSVP’s production of Regrets Only runs through May 30th at the MGAC on 703 South 2nd Street. A more comprehensive review of the show runs in this week’s upcoming Shepherd-Express.


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