Steve: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Before the official first scene of Mark Gerrard’s gay dramedy Steve, as the audience settles into seats, the cast congregates around a piano, merrily belting out tunes from the Broadway songbook. The final song—by which time the piano has moved to a wistful margin downstage right—is “Never Never Land,” from Peter Pan. “Once you have found your way there,” sings Mario Cantone, as Jerry Dixon tickles the keys, “You can never, never grow old.”
This choice of curtain-raiser is pointed. The desire to remain eternally young, not uncommon among gay men of a certain age, is known as a Peter Pan complex, and its prime exemplar here is Steven (Matt McGrath), an elfin former dancer who is now in his forties and raising a child with his longtime boyfriend, Stephen (Malcolm Gets). It is getting harder and harder for him to keep his self-image in flight. As Steve begins in earnest—or half-earnest, since it often keeps an eyebrow raised—Steven has just discovered that Stephen has been trading sexts with Brian (Dixon), the partner of their friend Matt (Cantone). After showing up drunk to his own birthday dinner, Steven screams about Stephen’s annihilation of their “picture-perfect storybook fairy-tale existence.” But actually, he doesn’t; no sooner have we seen his meltdown than the scene rewinds and plays again, in a less hysterical mode.
More dramaturgical swerves of that kind would be welcome in Steve, which is mostly less surprising. It is strikingly similar, in fact, to Peter Parnell’s Dada Woof Papa Hot, which recently opened at Lincoln Center and which also concerns the fidelity troubles of aging gay dads. Where they differ most is in Steve’s more explicit concern with mortality, as depicted through Steven’s friend Carrie (an appealing Ashlie Atkinson), whose terminal cancer serves as a reminder that there’s really only one way not to get older.
Generally, however, Steve is jokier—in addition to Stephen and Steven, the play also gives us an Esteban (Francisco Pryor Garat) and an unseen but much-discussed young trainer named Steve—and that’s a mixed blessing. Directed by Cynthia Nixon, the play winds up relying heavily on comic charm. The agile McGrath pulls his weight; Gets, in a duller part, blends in with the distinctly modest set.
Show-queen camaraderie is the springboard for many zippy quips, especially for Cantone, who delivers them like a cross between Joan Rivers and Daffy Duck; and the dialogue’s steady flow of Stephen Sondheim lyrics is initially clever. But there are far too many such citations; they start to seem like a mask—not for the characters’ feelings but for Steve’s unsteadiness in dramatizing them, especially as plot contrivances pile up. Could Sondheim himself, come to think of it, be the Steve of the title? If so, the gesture seems, aptly enough, at once amusing and somewhat overfamiliar.—Adam Feldman
New Group (Off Broadway). By Mark Gerrard. Directed by Cynthia Nixon. With Matt McGrath, Malcolm Gets, Ashlie Atkinson, Mario Cantone. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.
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