Regrets Only looks like what they used to call an old-fashioned “drawing room comedy.” The set is actually Park Avenue penthouse living room, but the actors moving about it are glib, sophisticated and well-attired as befits the genre. As to the splendid attire, why wouldn’t everyone be so natty, as the central character of Paul Rudnick’s play is a fashion designer whose gowns supposedly make Vera Wang’s look like something hanging at a neighborhood yard sale. Hank Hadley (Andrew Oswald) is also the catalyst for both the comedy and the dramatic moments of Regrets Only: He’s lost his gay lover of 36 years to cancer, and now his best friend Tibby’s (Kerry McCue) buttoned-up husband is drafting an amendment for President George W. Bush that would define marriage strictly as an institution between a man and a woman.
As Hank, Oswald is not only the center of this play’s universe, but he is the most restrained among the six-member cast. This Diversionary Theatre production, actress Jessica John’s directorial debut, is LOUD. Though they can be funny one and all, McCue, Charles Maze (as Tibby’s husband), Rachael VanWormer (their snooty daughter Spencer), Dagmar Krause Fields (dipsomaniacal Grandma Marietta) and Teri Brown (the maid, Myra) seem to be in volume competition. Brown also pops in and out of the action to make wisecracks, often employing different ethnic accents, and Fields’ first appearance on stage is while dressed in trash bags and traffic cone.
The screwball antics are in competition, too, with the play’s weighty questions: What defines marriage, and if a Dubya-administration amendment would deny gays and lesbians the right to marry, what would happen if they just took a day off from society and showed not just New York but the nation what life would be like without so many people who contribute to its functions and its joys? So the tenor of the production goes up and down, not just between Act 1 and Act 2, but within the second act itself. Only Oswald, most recently at Diversionary in last year’s The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, navigates the choppy waters smoothly. Everyone else would be wise to take it down a notch.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.