8

L.A. Theatre Works production recorded in 2012 of the play by Dustin Lance Black about the 2008 California court case involving Proposition 8 — a referendum proposal to ban same sex marriage (or more to the point: to strip that right that had previously been granted).

Part of the impetus for the play was that those arguing in favour of Equal Rights had wanted the trial broadcast to the public (as is often done in the U.S.) but the side arguing against gay marriage refused to agree (leading the makers of the play to present this as the story the anti-gay marriage side didn’t want the public to hear). The play is less a fictional dramatization than it is a recreation of key scenes and arguments, to essentially provide a public record of the trial (albeit trimmed to 90 min).

Initially intended both as an education in civil rights struggles and a fund raiser for Same Sex marriage rights, it was produced with all-star casts in New York and L.A. with this a recording of the L.A. show. Directed by Rob Reiner — yes, Rob Reiner — it’s a pretty heavy weight (all volunteer) cast, including George Clooney, Martin Sheen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch (as well as her fellow Glee castmates Chris Colfer and Matthew Morrison) and others. Because it‘s a recording of a stage performance, the audience will sometimes cheer or applaud when the actor comes on — but you have to wait till they speak to know what famous actor the audience is responding to! (Or to pick up on the “in joke” — the audience laughs knowingly when the character of the virulently anti-gay activist Maggie Gallagher appears, but it’s only when you realize the openly gay actress Lynch is playing her that you get the deliberately ironic casting).

Admittedly, given the nature of the script, a lot of the actors don’t necessarily get to shine in performances. Though with stand outs including Sheen, Bacon and Reilly, the latter two in essentially “villain” roles, so getting more colourful — and ultimately humorous — parts, with Bacon, as the lawyer against marriage rights, stumbling and stammering over the dubious logic of his own argument, and Reilly playing a particularly eccentric witness.

Of course the play has a bias (it was intended as a fund raiser, Reiner and others were actually involved in funding the court case the play is portraying, and the audience applauds vigorously at key speeches) and is most appealing for those who already support equal marriage rights. Yet if you’re on the fence, but open minded, the play is an interesting chance to hear the arguments (or lack thereof) made on either side. And as an example of civil rights trial theatre (think Inherit the Wind or 12 Angry Men) it’s fairly compelling — with some good dramatic moments, good emotional moments, and good funny moments. Though since based mainly on the court transcripts and ancillary interviews, it’s not like there are character sub-plots, or even closed door negotiations to be revealed. But ultimately, tightly paced and an effective court room drama.

The CD contains probably an hour of extras, including interviews with some of the cast, Black and Reiner, and the real life lawyers who argued for same sex marriage rights — and against Proposition 8 — David Boies and Theodore B. Olson.

Mizlansky / Zilinsky

L.A. Theatre Works audio adaptation of the play by John Robin Baitz, a satire of Hollywood’s fringe dwellers, also rans, and tax shelter schemes. It involves a fading movie mogul who’s trying to market Bible stories on audio, but has cooked the books in the process.

Enjoyable enough comedy and satire (with a darker bite, dealing with anti-Semitism — most of the characters are Jews) though can be one of those plays which is a tad unsatisfying by the end. Not gut busting hilarious, yet not completely satisfying emotionally (since Mizlansky is an anti-hero) or conceptually (it’s not like it’s some grand house of cards scheme). Even the anti-Semitism can feel a bit tacked on toward the end simply to add gravitas. And I’m sometimes a bit ambivalent about stories that, on one hand, want to tackle prejudice and anti-Semitism — even as many of the Jewish characters are portrayed as con artists and avaricious. Baitz (who I assume is Jewish) presumably wants to satirize all sides, but it does seem to send mixed impressions.

Still, that aside, in short this is like a dozen better-than-average but not quite great plays and is certainly worth a listen. Though — dagnabit! — as a sci-fi fan, I’m not sure I appreciate the digs at science fiction (one character is an actor who is basically supposed to have hit bottom because he’s contemplating a role in a SF series). Ah, well…

The “name” cast of familiar voices is definitely an appeal, although with a certain mix of styles. Nathan Lane (as the scheming Mizlansky) is loud and more farcical (and Rob Morrow’s gay assistant is a bit broad) while Richard Masur and Paul Sand (as Zilinsky) play it more grounded and subtle, as do Grant Shaud and Robert Walden. Kurtwood Smith is also in the cast (and maybe a bit broader, too). All are good but, as I say, maybe coming at it from different angles. (Funnily, I came across a review of a stage production of this with some of the same actors — but cast in different parts!)