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A CurtainUp Review
Steven's not much of a reader— Stephen
I read— Steven
What do you read?— Carrie
Playbills — Steven

So now we're supposed to get married?. . .Now we're supposed to want to get married?— Playwright Mark Gerrard, commenting on his feelings during the 2011 celebration of the marriage equality bill, in a New York Times interview.
Matt McGrath, Ashlie Atkinson and Francisco Pryor Garat (Photo: Monique Carboni).
The newest thing about Steve now at the New Group's Pershing Square Signature Center, is the way director Cynthia Nixon has turned Mark Gerrard's look at middle-aged Gay unions into a Noel Coward style drawing room comedy with music. There's lots of show tune singing, including a concert that begins even as people are still taking their seats.

Unlike Terrence McNally's Mothers and Sons, Gerrard's picture of Gay married life is less of a blissfully ever after scenario. These men are caught up in the trauma of passion dulled by time and domesticity. It's a trauma not unusual in old-fashioned, heterosexual domestic dramas that's gaining new momentum with gay playwrights — to wit, another similarly themed play, Dada Woof Papa hot, is currently over at Lincoln Center.

Gerrard's not so rosy picture of gay men finally being able to have it all is certainly timely. But his characters are rather stereotypical and tend to make Steve come off as something of a wannabe update of Boys In the Band.

Steve (Matt McGrath), the title character and his best friends Matt (Mario Cantone) and Carrie (Ashlie Atkinson), are theater obsessed, all having once aspired to show biz careers. They see everything within the context of a play or a musical and their constant theatrical references are the main source for humor.

Stephen (Malcolm Gets), Steven's partner, a straight as an arrow lawyer, is also a familiar figure from previous gay plays. And while the heartbreak of friends and lovers dying from HIV is past, Gerrard has conveniently afflicted the lesbian Carrie with cancer. Stephen Karam's The Humans includes a similar lesbian partnership breakup as a result of serious illness. But Karam's play is about a much broader, more universally interesting array of humanity dealing with life's bumpy passages.

The one really new-new thing here is the super extensive use of cell phones to propel the plot, and the way texting is integrated into the dialogue. Trendy and cleverly handled by Nixon and projectionist Olivia Sebesky as it is, I found this more worrisome than welcome. I'm certainly not against technology. There would be no Curtainup without the internet and I don't go anywhere these days without my mini ipad. But the overwhelming presence of smart phones that has people glued to their screens texting up a storm seems to be making them less aware of and interested in their surroundings. It's technology's defeat of the old and still sage advice to "wake up and smell the roses." The Christmas scene in which Stephen frantically multi-texts on two phones is a depressing reinforcement of a world in which people are united by banal communication — no matter what their race, sexual orientation or income.

Though I was underwhelmed by the over-reliance on trendy technology, I found the performances excellent. Matt McGrath, who only recently was such a standout in The Legend of Georgia McBride, makes Steve likeable enough to escape being an empty vessel character. He is, in fact, terrific.

Malcolm Gets, besides showing off his impressive skills as a pianist in the pre-show concert, is right on the mark as the straight-laced Stephen, who's not immune to the 17-year itch by getting into a "sexting" relationship — and thereby, as Steven puts it, annihilating "what was once but will never be again our picture-perfect storybook fairy tale existence."

The other couple forced to navigate the mid-life angst about being less sexy and interesting is also well and amusingly portrayed by Mario Cantone and Jerry Dixon. We only see one of the two young studs who serve as a means to alleviate the boredom in both coupledoms. However, Francisco Pryor Garat, the one we do see, is funny enough for both. Ashlie Atkinson deserves a special bravo for making the only female in the mix more than a device for somehow ending things by having the friendship and couple problems resolved with a tuneful "So Long, Goodbye" from The Sound Of Music.

Steve by Mark Gerrard
Directed by Cynthia Nixon
ast: Ashlie Atkinson (Carrie), Francisco Pryor Garat (Esteban), Mario Cantone (Matt), Jerry Dixon (Brian), Malcolm Gets (Stephen) and Matt McGrath (Steven) Scenic Design by Allen Moyer
Costume Design by Tom Broecker
Lighting Design by Eric Southern
Sound Design by David Van Tieghem
d Projection Design by Olivia Sebesky
Music Coordinator, Seth Rudetsky
Stage Manager: Valerie A Peterson
Running Time: 90 minutes, without intermission
The New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center
From 11/03/15; opening 11/18/15; closing 1/03/16
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 11/12/15 press preview
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