Regretfully Yours

They send their "Regrets."

Without regret.

"This is a drawing room comedy for the MTV generation," says Brian Scott, starring in playwright Paul Rudnick's "Regrets Only" at Las Vegas Little Theatre. "It's one of the funniest scripts, if not the funniest, I've ever read."

Theater's master quipsters -- Neil Simon and Noel Coward, specifically -- could inch over to make room for Rudnick, a Quick Draw McGraw with a gag, as in this question posed by the play's rich socialite as she heads out the door: "Is it chilly? Do I need a bracelet?"

"Regrets Only" tosses out enough rim shot-worthy wisecracks to wear out a snare drum. "I think his jokes are a little bit smarter than Neil Simon's," says director Walter Niejadlik of Rudnick, also the author of "I Hate Hamlet" and screenplays for "In and Out" and "Addams Family Values."

Laughs are the garnish Rudnick sprinkles around the socio-political food for thought of "Regrets Only" -- gay marriage. "It's tough to not get all shticky, to find some honest answers in there to get the message across," Niejadlik says. "But it isn't beating the audience over the head and saying, 'This is the way we want you to think.' We want them to draw their own conclusions based on what they see the characters go through."

In the 2006 play, gay designer Hank (based partly on the late Bill Blass), whose longtime lover died several months before the play begins, has been staunchly apolitical until Jack, a member of his whirlwind social circle and high-profile attorney, is tapped by President George W. Bush -- or at least we assume -- to draft a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. "It makes some comment about him clearing the brush at his ranch, so we pretty much figure out it's Bush," says Scott, who portrays Hank.

That triggers rethinking about marriage and even friendship between Hank and his closest confidante, Jack's socialite wife, Tibby, a fashionista favoring partying over politics.

As other characters weave through the piece -- a madcap maid who is a font of opinions, all delivered in foreign accents, Tibby's daffy mother, and Jack and Tibby's about-to-be-hitched daughter, who is also an attorney -- Hank awakens to an issue his partner had tried unsuccessfully to engage him in, and now takes impressive action to demonstrate what the world might be like without gays.

"One of the reasons I like this is it's not clear-cut yea and nay," Scott says. "One thing my character says is, 'I don't know if I believe in marriage for anybody. If you love somebody, why club it to death with a ceremony? If you want to kill something beautiful, just add crab cakes and God.' Yes, it's about gay marriage, but it's about marriage altogether."

Keeping faith with Rudnick's conception of Hank, Scott adds, entailed resisting the overused gay stereotype. "He's not a big, swishy queen, he actually met his partner in the Army," Scott says.

"(During rehearsal) I got subtler. Walter would say, 'I want you to get bitchier, but not over-the-top bitchy.' He was having trouble getting me to understand this sophisticated bitchiness. He had me watch (the Stanley Tucci character) in 'The Devil Wears Prada' and said, 'Don't imitate him, but keep an eye on him.' "

As theater with gay-issue overtones, "Regrets" is in the company of works such as "Angels in America" and "The Normal Heart," but overlaid with zingers and zaniness. And it eschews easy heroes and villains to facilitate a message. "All the characters are likable. None of them are twirling their mustaches over in the corner and signing petitions," Niejadlik says. "They don't want to offend Hank, but they get so caught up in the idea of the amendment and the president that they don't see the effect it has."

Penned during the Bush administration and now performed in the Obama era, "Regrets" remains relevant -- while President Obama advocates gay rights, he hasn't supported gay marriage, and Nevada still defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Given that older theatergoers who might lean conservative comprise a major portion of the audience for Little Theatre mainstage productions, tracking attendance for "Regrets" should prove interesting, even for a play whose main lure is laughs.

"There's no conclusion where it's, BAM, we've solved the problem, we're moving on," Scott says. "People's eyes get opened a little bit on both sides."

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ or 702-383-0256.