New York City Theater
The Pershing Square Signature Center
And here comes another play about gays facing conformity and children, while still obsessing about sex. Hard on the heels of the similarly themed yet superior “Dada Woof Papa Hot” and “Significant Others,” Mark Gerrard’s disappointing “Steve” is about heartaches and headaches associated with the new-found rights and responsibilities of same-sex couples. Lightly amusing, it’s breezily written but cliché-ridden and contains dialogue that sounds more like chat than conversation.
One cliché is riddling the play with multiple show-queen references. (“What kind of God would allow the movie version of ‘Mame’?”) Even before the play proper starts, the cast gathers around a piano to sing selections from such hits as “Follies,” “Oklahoma,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Mame.” Transitioning into the play, one actor gives out with “Never Never Land” from “Peter Pan,” a lyric about never growing old.
For growing old – and dying – is the subtext here. Not only do we have two gay couples, Matt and Brian (Mario Cantone and Jerry Dixon), Stephen and Steven (Malcolm Gets and Matt McGrath), we have female friend Carrie (Ashlie Atkinson), who’s actually dying of cancer. Her situation veils the jokey, campy, bitchy remarks so familiar to the gay community, leading to a bittersweet ending.
Sex is the only activity that will ward off the inevitable. But sex is less accessible, certainly less guilt-free when couples are at least contemplating becoming legally committed and raising children
In attempting to fashion a “picture-perfect storybook fairy tale existence,” the couples face the same old temptations. Stephen sleeps with Matt’s Brian; Steve sleeps with a waiter named Esteban (Spanish for Stephen and played by Francisco Pryor Garat); Matt and Brian have a three-way with gym trainer Steve (unseen); and Stephen of Steven and Stephen has an affair with Brian. Meanwhile, friend Carrie faces mortality.
Regretting they’re no longer in their prime, the men refuse to let go of their adolescence. It’s not lack of sex that brings them down; it’s lack of maturity, the eternal desire for youth and beauty. (“I’ll never have sex again,” bemoan Steven and Carrie.) Although similar problems arise with straight couples, gays have always felt less constrained by a society so hostile it wouldn’t even consider same-sex marriage, much less same-sex adoption.
But that’s giving this play more credit than it deserves. Although author Gerrard wants to reveal the emotional lives of these randy, conflicted guys, it’s up to director Cynthia Nixon to find the characters’ emotional cores, their hearts’ confusions and desires. This she does with an evident director-actor collaboration, eliciting layered performances, especially from Matt McGrath, that reverberate throughout the evening.
“It’s a new world,” says Carrie. That it is, but this throwback work hardly advances the cause.
--David A. Rosenberg
Dec. 18, 2015