By Dan Guarino
The Rockaway Theatre Company rang last year out with the taut drama of “A Few Good Men.’” Then, they opened the new one with a bang with music, dance and “Cabaret.” Now RTC springs into freewheeling comedy/satire with “Regrets Only.” The new show, directed by Peggy Page and Michael Wotypka, opens Friday night, May 12 and runs through Sunday, May 28, at RTC’s Post Theater at Fort Tilden.
As the directors explain it, “Regrets Only” is “a comedy of manners that explores with elegance and style the very latest topics in marriage and friendship.” Playwright Paul Rudnick sets his play in an elegantly designed Fifth Avenue Penthouse. The players are a dazzling socialite, Tibby McCullough, her husband, a power-driven attorney named Jack McCullough, a fashion designer titan, Hank Hadley–think Bill Blass, a grande-dame of fashion from the old school, Marietta, a Bridezilla daughter and rising attorney, Spencer, and, Myra, an omniscient, wisecracking, wacky maid who keeps all the others real.
“I have been quoting lines from ‘Regrets Only’ ever since I saw the 2007 Manhattan Theater Club production with Christine Baranski and George Grizzard,” Wotypka says. When Page first read it, she noted, “This author is an equal opportunity offender, he spares no one.”
Page and Wotypka are very tight-lipped on where the plot twists and turns while building a momentum of hilarity along the way. “Forgive our Fort Knox security about the plot,” Wotypka says. “However, to appreciate ‘Regrets Only’ fully, the events that unfold in Act II need to be complete surprises!”
They both agree, “That is the way comedy should be. Satire is meant to offend. Satire should make us feel uncomfortable. If it did not, satire would not make us think; (and) ‘Regrets Only’ certainly does that.”
Judging from the fast and smart dialogue from the actors as they rehearse at RTC, “Regrets Only” certainly makes the characters and the audience think. Much of what transpires on stage is surprisingly very current and could be being talked about on any news program, discussed online, down the block or anywhere people gather right now.
Where does it all go? Page and Wojtyla will leave the surprise, the laughs and deep thought to unfold on stage and for the audience to discover and enjoy.
But they will share some historical background to set it all up. Wotypka says, “When Paul Rudnick wrote the play, Massachusetts was the only state that had legalized gay marriage.” Fearing other states would follow suit, George W. Bush’s administration proposed what they called the Federal Marriage Amendment. It attempted to categorically enshrine the definition of marriage as the union of a man and woman only permanently into the Constitution. In the play, “This is the amendment that Jack and his daughter Spencer are asked to compose for the President” of the United States.
But even as the actors rehearse, it is clear that what they are bringing to life are not just words and legalities amid the laughs. As they interact on a stage where props and set are a work in progress, each of the leads is working hard to build the underlying bonds between these characters and how all of this deeply affects their lives.
The “Regrets Only” cast of RTC veterans Susan Corning, Eileen Farrell, David Risely, Jodee Timpone, Frank Freeman and Adele Wendt delivers all of this and more. Working with them was a “blissful experience,” the directors note, “This troupe’s verbal dexterity and exquisite timing mines every gem in the script.”
As a further nod to their professionalism, they have carried on honing their lines, timing and interplay again and again even while some cast changes unexpectedly came into play. In fact, actor Frank Freeman agreed long distance to last-minute step into the role of Jack and had to be sent the script as he was still on vacation in Italy.
Wotypka and Page, working together since 2005, also greatly acknowledge Diana Bayne and her “exceptional lighting design,” costumer Ashley Chico who has “dressed our cast to the nines,” superior sound engineers Richard Louis-Pierre and Tom Burke, “meticulous stage manager” Suzanne Works and having “another magnificent ‘very Tony Homsey’ set design.”
“The New York Times called playwright Paul Rudnick, ‘one of the funniest quip-meisters on the planet’,” Wotypka says, and notes he and Page have “had a grand time working on” on this new production.
Oh, and they also let on, “We did alter one word (in the play.). Find one of us at intermission, and we will tell you which” one it was!
They both hope everyone coming to see it will be caught up in it, too.
“We are proud to bring you ‘Regrets Only.’ We hope you will enjoy Paul Rudnick’s social commentary delivered with his own unique brand of one-liners. He has given us a one-of-a-kind-platform to laugh hysterically and think critically about the world around us.”
No doubt there will be no “regrets” as audiences come away from this with something to laugh about and something to think about.
“Regrets Only” runs May 12-28. Showtimes are Fridays/Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm. For tickets, go to Rockawaytheatrecompany.org.