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Frank J. Avella
On Theater

Mark Gerrard’s
Sunday @ 2PM
Tuesday @ 7:30PM
Wednesday @ 7:30PM
Thursday @ 7:30PM
Friday @ 7:30PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
Opened November 3, 2015
Extended through January 3, 2016
The New Group
The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, NYC.

Directed by Cynthia Nixon

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

There are three Steve’s onstage in the New Group’s production of Mark Gerrard’s “Steve.” Stephen (Malcolm Gets, and Steven (Matt McGrath) are a couple. And Esteban (Francisco Pryor Garat) is a hot young waiter. Wait, then there’s Steve, the personal trainer that we never see but certainly hear a lot about. And if you count Stephen Sondheim, whose songs pepper this enjoyable, moving and sometimes meandering play, that makes five. And I guess you can even toss in a sixth Steve, since Steven Spielberg is invoked a few times, mostly through his disparaging remarks about his wife, Kate Capshaw.

As Robert Harling wrote in “Steel Magnolias,” “All gay men are named Mark, Rick or Steve.” A stereotype, but most stereotypes have some basis in fact. Suffice to say, I’ve personally known a LOT of gay Steves—to the point where I would give them prefixes to decipher which Steve I was referring to.

Now about the Steves in “Steve.

Stephen is a businessman with a secret wild side; so secret it seemingly only comes out when he texts—make that sexts. Steven is the more overtly flamboyant and tempestuous of the two. As the piece opens, the Steves relationship is rocky at best. They’ve been together for 16 years and have an adoptive son, whom Steve cares for during the day. But the passion seems to have dissipated so they bicker a lot, and when Steven finds out Stephen has been sexting their friend Brian (Jerry Dixon) he uses that info to shake the foundation of their already crumbling coupling even further.

Gay, NYC upper middle class, white people problems, basically.

Brian’s partner, Matt (Mario Cantone, deliciously chewing every piece of scenery), is also one of Steven’s besties. He and Brian have taken in their physical trainer (half their age) to spice up their relationship.

More gay, NYC upper middle class, white people problems--or solutions, depending on how you view threesomes.

Steven’s other bestie, Carrie (Ashlie Atkinson) is dying, but Steve refuses to accept it.

The relationship between Steven and Carrie is one of the most believable and joyful elements of the piece and it’s as much a tribute to the two actors as the good writing.

The same cannot be said for the fairly one-dimensionally written characters of Matt and Brian.

The kind of self-indulgent character portraits found in “Steve” have been seen onstage a bajillion times, beginning with Mart Crowley’s divisive “Boys in the Band” in the late ‘60s where self-hatred and self-pity ruled the party. Where does that play lie right now on the appreciation spectrum? Is it groundbreaking or damaging? Or camp? In historical context, it was certainly OF its time…

But I digress…although not that much.

“Steve” wants to be about todays middle aged gay men but is really about a niche’ group of gays who don’t really have many economic worries so, instead, they’re obsessed with their own happiness or lack thereof. And where does this ennui come from? When Gerrard is asking these questions and not having his characters simply spew cleverisms, “Steve” is at it’s best. When the play tries too hard, like the scene that features Gets phone-and-text multitasking, the idea is awesome, the execution, awkward.

Cynthia Nixon does a great job balancing the frivolity with the play’s more serious moments, which, again, are stronger than the fun bits.

Steve is about relationships but also about trying to navigate aging and responsibility with that human need to hold onto youth and pleasure—especially the carnal kind.

I also enjoyed the quiet moments in “Steve” most, especially those between McGrath and Gets in the final few moments as well as a remarkably moving scene with McGrath and Atkinson, also near the end.

McGrath is so good he tears at the soul of Steven. His performance alone is worth shelling out $95 (really? Off-broadway? $95?)

Garat, besides being delicious eye candy, conveys a longing we rarely see in twentysomething queer stage characters. He also delivers the shows funniest diva-snap-retort after lines from “Evita are quoted:” “Eva Peron is not a hero to everyone in Argentina!”

The witty musical-theatre-speak and show tune repartee bonds the characters and is not audience alienating but it does stretch believability that all five central figures would be so steeped in that world. There’s usually, at least one person in every gaggle of besties who is deliberately contrary or just not a show queen. (Try to arrive 15 minutes before curtain to enjoy a pre-show cabaret concert with all the characters, if you like show tunes!)

The play does hint at the dilemmas currently facing the gay male community when it comes to notions of assimilation into a more heteronormative way of living vs. the more sexualized, nonconformist notions that have defined the community for decades. Who we are should be based on who we want to be not on some societal definition of who we should be. But what if those new standards are exactly what has allowed the rest of the world to move so much closer to acceptance and respect?

Tickets: $25-$95

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