Almost funnier than any but the biggest laughs in Paul Rudnick’s Regrets Only is the desire of some daily reviewers to scold the play for not being something other than what it is. You would think, after nearly a dozen plays, they’d have taken Rudnick’s measure. He is never going to be the great constructor of deeply meaningful drama, or even the great satirist whose scalpel slices deep into society’s diseased organs. He’s just funny. His plays just make you laugh. Everything else—and there’s often a great deal else—is merely the gravy on the meat and potatoes of laughter. And if truth be told, Regrets Only is in fact better sustained dramatically than any Rudnick play since the early days of I Hate Hamlet and Jeffrey.
Maybe the super-rich environment of Regrets Only misled our innocent colleagues. Set in the Park Avenue apartment where a high-profile lawyer (David Rasche) and his social-butterfly wife (Christine Baranski) rub shoulders with an ultra-famous gay fashionista (George Grizzard) who has just lost his longtime partner to cancer, it seems to contain all the buzzwords of meaningfulness. Add a giddy mother-in-law (Siân Phillips), a lawyer daughter (Diane Davis) contemplating a lavish old-style wedding, and a summons from the White House’s current despised occupant to help draft an anti-same-sex-marriage amendment, and you get a soufflé recipe that Rudnick knows exactly how to dish up. His climactic joke may parallel one used eons ago in Douglas Turner Ward’s Day of Absence, but his characters kick up enough laughs to keep the house roaring all the way there. Noel Coward, who spent years hearing the London critics call his plays “thin,” is probably beaming down on him now. Even Moliére might beam at director Christopher Ashley’s post- Laugh-In use of Jackie Hoffman as “the only white Jewish maid in Manhattan.”