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THEATER REVIEW: “Regrets Only” at Diversionary

It’s just another night in the spectacular Fifth Avenue penthouse of Tibby (Kerry McCue) and Jack McCullough (Charles Maze). Tibby and her best friend, well-known gay dress designer Hank Hadley (Andrew Oswald) are just about to leave for a night of glittering charity benefit events when Jack and their daughter Spencer (Rachael VanWormer) enter with big news.

Jack (a powerful Manhattan attorney) has been tapped by President G.W. Bush to draft an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment and Jack wants Spencer (also a high-powered, or at least highly-paid attorney) to clerk for him.
Spencer is more than willing to put her big news – wedding plans with a rich investment banker – on hold for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Hank, who has been Tibby’s bff practically forever, is still grieving the death of his partner of 38 years a few months earlier – and crushed that Jack would consider this job, even for the glamor of becoming a White House insider.

He is also feeling guilty that he never agreed to marry (or even move in with) his partner, even as a deathbed request. He says it’s because he doesn’t believe in marriage for anyone: “If you want to kill something beautiful, just add crab cakes and God.”

Also flitting through the play is the maid, Myra (Teri Brown), so tired of being “the only white Jewish maid in Manhattan” that she takes on a different nationality and accent with each entrance. It lacks sense and relevance, but is amusing and does give Brown a chance to flex those “foreigner” muscles.

Paul Rudnick’s “Regrets Only” (written in 2006, when same-sex marriage was legal only in Massachusetts), at first seems to be about gay marriage. But Rudnick has said he was aiming not for a political play but for a drawing-room comedy of the “Philadelphia Story” ilk.

The general topic is marriage, its relevance and/or desirability for straights or gays. Should Hank feel guilty about not marrying his partner? Should Spencer bother to marry at all? Can and/or should married people have a platonic best friend of the opposite sex, and is that even possible?

Before we have time to ponder these weighty issues (Rudnick plays hit-and-run with them, mentioning and then essentially dropping them), he’s got something else up his sleeve.

At the top of the second act, Hank takes revenge on his old friend Jack with the solution seen in Douglas Turner Ward’s 1965 “Day of Absence” and the 2004 film “A Day Without a Mexican” – in the first case, all the African Americans disappeared; in the film, all the Hispanics are suddenly gone. Hank gets all the Manhattan gays to disappear for the day. Imagine what that does to Spencer’s wedding plans.

Tibby’s mother is also introduced in the second act. Marietta (Dagmar Krause Fields) is an elegant grande dame who arrives wearing a dress made of a trash bag – a rather spiffy looking one, thanks to costume designer Alina Borovikova’s magic – and very inelegant tissue box shoes. It seems all the Broadway shows were closed (except the plays by Mamet and LaBute), so Marietta was shopping for a dress when suddenly everyone disappeared – and Marietta’s clothing with them.

Oswald and McCue play well off each other, and VanWormer makes the most of her spoiled-brat role. Maze is fine in an underwritten role, and Fields has a field day (sorry) with the tipply, know-it-all Marietta.

Jessica John directs with a good eye for the goofy, and she gets fine help from Matt Scott’s classy set design, Luke Olson’s lighting and Kevin Anthenill’s music and sound design. But it’s those Bokovikova costumes you’ll remember.

There’s a local tie-in, too: La Jolla Playhouse’s own Christopher Ashley directed the off-Broadway premiere of “Regrets Only” in 2006.

Rudnick knows his way around a good one-liner. And “Regrets Only” (which plays at Diversionary Theatre through Sept. 21) certainly inspires giggles. What it lacks is dramatic coherence, heft, and a reason to care about these characters.

Tibby nails it when she says, “We lead the most ridiculous lives.”

The details

“Regrets Only” plays through Sept. 21 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., San Diego, California.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (619) 220-0097 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.