Saturday, November 21, 2015

Steve **

If you arrive early at the Signature Center for the New Group’s production of Mark Gerrard’s dramedy Steve, you will find Malcolm Gets already onstage playing show tunes on an upright piano. He is joined by four other cast members for an enjoyable 15-minute Broadway songfest. At play’s end, there’s a charming musical curtain call. Unfortunately, between those two points there is the play itself which, for me, wore out its welcome long before its 90 minutes had passed. Although there are strong superficial similarities with the recently opened Dada Woof Papa Hot — both plays deal with a gay couple approaching middle age who are raising a child, their fears about losing attractiveness, their worries about infidelity and their relations with another gay couple, the play that Steve really reminded me of was Matt Crowley’s 1968 hit The Boys in the Band. Both begin with a birthday party that turns out badly. Despite all the ways that gay life has changed in the intervening years, the characters’ mode of relating to each other has not made much progress. If anything, modern technology has increased the possibility of bad behavior. There was no sexting in 1968. Steven (Matt McGrath, so good recently in The Legend of Georgia McBride), once a chorus boy and singing waiter, has just turned 47. His partner Stephen (Gets) is a successful attorney. Steven is now a stay-at-home dad raising their unseen 8-year-old son Zach. (For some reason that have not chosen to marry.) When Steven retrieves his partner’s cellphone from Zach, who has “borrowed” it, he finds a sexting exchange between Stephen and Brian (Jerry Dixon), the partner of Steven’s oldest friend Matt (Mario Cantone). The fifth guest at the birthday dinner is Carrie (Ashlie Atkinson), their terminally ill lesbian friend whose lover abandoned her when she became sick. Their waiter is a hunky Argentinian named Esteban (Francisco Pryor Garat) who keeps turning up at various locations throughout the play. Just to round out the name game, there is a fourth Steven, Brian and Matt’s prodigiously endowed trainer, who is unseen but much commented upon. Any attempt at meaningful communication is short-circuited by turning either to show-queen bitchiness or raunch. One scene is instantly replayed with a different ending, but that device goes nowhere. There is a funny scene where Stephen is juggling texts, sexts and a phone conversation with his mother. The capable cast does their best to animate characters that aren’t well-developed. Allen Moyer’s set is elegantly simple and Tom Broecker’s costumes are fine. Director Cynthia Nixon plays a weak hand well. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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