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|A CurtainUp Review
End of the World Party
The latest example of the Gay friends and lovers play is Emmy award winner Chuck Ranberg's End of the World Party. It moves the guys in the country to guys at the beach -- secifically a group who share a summer cottage in a middle class Fire Island community, the Pines. It's a scene where, as one character declares early on, "promiscuity, like Cher is back. " Sex, drugs and faster than a speeding rocket laugh lines notwithstanding, the ghost of the AIDS epidemic lurks around this weekend retreat from the real world.
Ranberg has assembled six eclectic, but predictable, housemates who unpack their assorted frailties and idiosyncrasies. We see that they are driven by all the anxieties and hang-ups that make being single often more painful than pleasurable, no matter what one's sexual orientation.
The central and most acerbically witty character is Hunter. An architect who is frustrated with designing prisons instead of beautiful houses, he drinks too much, cleans compulsively and remains aloof from all the mating activity -- especially talk about permanent relationships which leads him to quip "Is Bed, Bath and Beyond closing?" As portrayed by Jim J. Bullock, the ultimate in cool and snappy and delivers his many one liners with a master archer's precision.
Roger (Christopher Durham), Hunter's fellow "old-timer" and former lover, is a model who at almost forty is a muscled bundle of agonized angst about his loss of youthful sex appeal. He's also mad for Nick's (another housemate) young boyfriend, even as he's seriously seeking a husband and struggling with genuine concerns about ageism's threat to his career. As Roger yearns for young Chip (Adam Simmons), the boy is rejected by Nick (Russell Scott Lewis) when he asks for more more than just sex -- Nick's attitude toward relationships being summed up with "if you want fidelity, find a dog."
Phil (Brian Cooper), the newest "share" is excited about being in the place he's heard about while growing up in Minnesota (is there ever a play about walks on the wild side without an open-eyed young man from the Midwest?). Like Chip, Phil is looking for sex plus love. Rounding out the assemblage is the house nymphomaniac, Will (Anthony Barille) and the spiritual Travis (David Drake), a school teacher who still grieves for his dead lover.
The plot consists of seeing each of these characters develop some insights along with their summer tans and the men's summer connection blossoming into a year round friendship. Nothing leads towards a particularly resounding climax -- except, of course, for the summer's end party of the title during which Nick almost dies of an overdose. Fortunately, there are enough amusing and occasionally touching distractions along the way -- most of the latter come by way of soliloquies which give each character a turn at peeling away the outer layer of his persona.
Jim Bullock is the show's standout though Matthew Lombardo gets decent performances out of the ensemble. Given the teensy weensy dimensions of the 47th Street Theater's stage, Lombardo and set designer Christopher Pickart deserve praise for moving the six actors around the stage without having them bump into each other. Two doorways and a short staircase give a sense of a large-seeming house and the beach beyond. Pickart has also turned the single aisle into a wooden beach walk.
The End of the World Party is not a great play and or particularly revelatory. Filled as it is with the rat-tat-tat laughs the playwright has learned to refine in Fraser, you don't need to bring a handkerchief to wipe away any tears. To his credit, Ranberg is not afraid to portray these men as immature, self-absorbed and self-destructive. While all want love, none of them are ready, as one of the men puts it, to settle down in Forest Hills -- a neighborhood with a large population of conventional, permanently paired Gay men. Yet, wherever their hearts and libidos take them, you can't help liking Hunter, Roger, Phil, Will, Travis, Nick and Chip -- and wishing them luck.