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Review: STEVE, or Here's To The Gentlemen Who Sup

Quick study guide for keeping track of who's who in Mark Gerrard's tragicomedy, STEVE:

  • Steven: Unsuccessful musical theatre hopeful, now a stay-at-home dad with a midlife crisis.
  • Stephen: Steven's romantic partner, a lawyer.
  • Steve: A personal trainer, talked about but not seen.
  • Stephen Sondheim: The composer/lyricist whose songs keep getting quoted throughout the play. Also not seen.
  • Esteban: A guy from Argentina who just keeps popping up.
Francisco Pryor Garat, Matt McGrath and Ashlie Atkinson
(Photo: Monique Carboni)

If you somehow missed your latest constitutional fix at Marie's Crisis, you can make up for it a bit by arriving fifteen minutes early for The New Group's production of STEVE, the sophomore directorial effort by Cynthia Nixon after a very successful debut last season with the company's RASHEEDA SPEAKING.

Cast member Malcolm Gets, who will eventually appear as Stephen (the lawyer) sits at an upright piano, playing some standard showtunes for our enjoyment. After a few choruses, cast members begin entering one by one, thumbing through sheet music and picking their favorite golden age hits to belt. They're not performing for the audience, just pals amusing themselves.

Ninety minutes later, they sing another beloved old standard. This time they're putting on a show and sending the crowd out with a smile.

In between is Gerrard's play, an earnest effort that runs on its scattered charms in lieu of a plot. Steven (Matt McGrath) and his dear friend Carrie (Ashlie Atkinson), whose head scarf covers her post-dialysis scalp, are the first to arrive at the nice restaurant where the gang is celebrating his 47th birthday. They met while waiting tables at a piano bar with Matt (Mario Cantone), who arrives with his husband, Brian (Jerry Dixon). Cantone and Dixon are also married in real life and their chemistry is quite charming.

Malcolm Gets, Jerry Dixon, Mario Cantone and Matt McGrath
(Photo: Monique Carboni)

It's obvious that something's bothering Steven because he keeps quoting COMPANY and even orders a vodka stinger. (Yes, the play takes place in 2015.)

The discomfort gets thicker when Stephen arrives and it's not just because the discovery of waiter Esteban's (Francisco Pryor Garat) national origin sparks an EVITA quote-fest. Steven lets it be known that he knows Stephen and Brian have been sexting... or maybe he doesn't. It's one of those plays.

Stephen and Steven's relationship deteriorates, as does Carrie's health, but Matt and Brian seem to have fortified their relationship with the inclusion of personal trainer Steve. (Again, he's not seen.)

This all leads to a sentimental Fire Island gathering that keeps edging toward a chorus of Sondheim's "Old Friends." That's because the only time STEVE seems to be awake is when the characters banter about Audra McDonald, PACIFIC OVERTURES, Kristin Chenoweth and whatnot. The cast is very strong, especially in the dexterity with which McGrath and Cantone realistically play different degrees of flamboyant gay characters without slipping into stereotypes, but while the score is a classic, STEVE has book problems.

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