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A CurtainUp Review
My Night With Reg
By Elyse Sommer
My only complaint about the New Group is that they only do three plays a season. That gripe aside, better three than none. As with the initial plays of the season, (This Is Our Youth and The Flatted Fifth), My Night With Reg is the work of a gifted young playwright, Kevin Elyot. He knows how to toss out incisive one liners, to give characters typical of a genre a universal dimension, and give unpredictable plot twists to the predictable. Elyot's play has been given a brisk production that boasts a terrific ensemble of actors and is directed with great panache by the highly accomplished Jack Hofsiss.
Unlike its predecessors, this last play of the season is a British import which has already established its credentials in London where it won rave reviews and amongst other the 1995 Olivier Award for Best Comedy. Tragi-comedy would be a more apt description. While the three intermissionless scenes do indeed bubble with funny lines, it is the heart-wrenching moments that will stick in your memory long after the chuckles have subsided. But then that's what good comedy is all about isn't it, to make you laugh so that you can look at what's underneath without hemorrhaging? Examples prevail --
Case in point: Daniel (Edward Hibbert) after a veritable volley of throwaway lines emerges as a mourner after his lover's funeral and unmasks himself with "I don't know what I'm going to do!" Case in point: Tthe devastation on Guy's (Ron Bagden) face when he once again must face the pain of unrequited love.
Case in point: John and Daniel suddenly breaking into a brief, joyous dance to "Starman" (by David Bowie) and ending it as abruptly as it began--an echo of the finality of youthful dreams forever unfulfilled.
Case in point: Even the two high comedy characters Bernard (David Cale) and Bernie (Joseph Siravo) have one stunning confrontational scene reminiscent of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
My Night With Reg is a closeup of six homosexual men living in London during the '80s, the onset of the AIDS crisis. Except for Eric, (Sam Trammell), a handsome young working class stud, all the men are on the sunny side of 40 and trying to juggle their libidos and fears (about aging and, this being the age of AIDS, not aging) with their fidelity to friends and lovers. Like any family, this "family" tries to be there for each other for life' high points (the move to a new, charming flat) and low points (funerals). And like many families, they don't always know how to communicate with each other. Feelings that should be given voice are left unaired, and things best left unsaid are blurted out.
Unlike other plays falling under the umbrella of "gay friends and lovers" Reg is less flamboyant and more universal (after all, who in this age of "thin is In" and "young is best" doesn't worry about the diminihments brought by advancing decades). Theirs is a jokey, insider language and as with manu such plays, those not in the know might miss an allusion (and with it, a laught) here and there. For example, had I not seen the wonderful Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde last week I would have missed the meaning of Daniel's toast, "Gross Indecency" during Guy's "flat-warming" party. (It's a reference to Queen Victoria's homophobic statute against sex between men that remained on the books until 1954).
More important than the quips, all the actors who toss them out give us a clear sense that the facile one-liners are the icing on top of layers of yearning and vulnerability. Their faces fill in all that's underneath the spoken words. This is what makes Ron Bagden's Guy as everybody' confidante but nobody's special somebody so utterly endearing. This is what makes us care about the Maxwell Cauldwell's cool still-gorgeous if balding John. When Edward Hibbert as the flamboyant Daniel, lets down his guard, our heart crumples along with his face. The most what-you-see-is what-you-get member of the sextet, Sam Trammel, is equally effective, as are the bore-and-the-boor couple played by David Cale and Joseph Stravo.
If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned the title character, remember that I said at the beginning that Elyot knows how to detour from the main road of familiar situations to the more surprising backroads. Reg is pivotal to everything and everyone in the play. I'll leave it to you to go to the Intar and find out how and why.