Review Roundup: STEVE, Directed by Cynthia Nixon, Opens Off-Broadway

The New Group presents the world premiere of STEVE, a new play by Mark Gerrard. Directed by Cynthia Nixon, this production features Ashlie Atkinson and Francisco Pryor Garat, and as announced, Mario Cantone, Jerry Dixon,Malcolm Gets and Matt McGrath. A limited Off-Broadway engagement plays now through December 27 at The Pershing Square Signature Center, with Opening Night set for tonight, November 18.

STEVE features Matt McGrath as Steven, Malcolm Gets as his partner Stephen, Mario Cantone as Steven's best friend Matt, Jerry Dixon as Matt's partner Brian, Ashlie Atkinson as Steven's best friend Carrie, and Francisco Pryor Garat as Esteban.

As Steven, a failed Broadway chorus boy turned stay-at-home dad, celebrates yet another birthday, he finds himself filled with fear and uncertainty. Is Stephen, his partner of 14 years, cheating on him? Why is one of his best friends dying of cancer? And what, exactly, has he done with his life? A portrait of a group of longtime, theater-loving friends as they navigate the many facets of midlife and mortality, Mark Gerrard's STEVE is a biting and bittersweet comedy about relationships and the unavoidable consequences of aging and the passage of time.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: This deliciously well-acted New Group production...portrays a group of middle-aged gay New Yorkers for whom life was once truly a cabaret. No, make that a piano bar -- the kind where, between show tunes, you might lock eyes with someone who'd turn out to be, if not the love of your life, at least the flavor of the night...But Mr. Gerrard, an actor who would also appear to be a natural-born playwright, stakes out his own valley of shadows in this landscape. It's an uncomfortably comfortable place where mortality is beginning to lap at the egos of golden boys (and one girl) who are finally starting to realize that the party may be over -- really over -- and that their sexual attractiveness is fast approaching its sell-by date..."Steve" holds up a clear but compassionate mirror to anyone who's been part of a post-passion long-term relationship and started to dissect the moral obligations of monogamy.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Where does the conflict come from in the contemporary gay play, now that the palpable threat of AIDS, the blight of institutionalized homophobia and the stigma of being social outsiders have receded to a significant degree?...Newcomer Mark Gerrard's almost quaintly retrograde answer, in his amusing but inconsequential Steve, is to introduce a lone female character - let's call her Chunky Cancer Lesbian - and kill her off to fuel the guys' cathartic release...The saving grace, to some extent, is that Gerrard and his likeable ensemble, under Cynthia Nixon's direction, do succeed in etching the indelible bonds that tie Carrie to the two middle-aged gay male couples whose domestic issues are the play's real subject. That's no small feat given that Steve substitutes dialogue for drama and parts for actual characters, coasting by on the writer's facility for humorous, often bitchy banter and clever pop-cultural references, predominantly from Broadway musicals.

Linda Winer, Newsday: "Steve" may be the ultimate theater-geek's tragicomedy. It is written by gifted New York newcomer Mark Gerrard, with an outstanding cast directed with enormous joy, verbal virtuosity and emotional understanding by Cynthia Nixon for The New Group...And everyone knows musical theater (Sondheim, but not just Sondheim) so well that the fast-talking dialogue, even the dead serious conversation, is filled beyond capacity with lyrics and lines from shows. Before the play starts, the buddies all gather around a piano and goof around with show tunes. Buoyant and sad, stylized and real, this is a find.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: It is strikingly similar... to Peter Parnell's Dada Woof Papa Hot...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 old. Generally, however, Steve is jokier...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 cameraderie 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.

Jesse Green, Vulture: Aside from that pre-show songfest, there's a "rewound" scene, a scene played out in a flurry of text messages, a fake-out moment of surreality, various musical interludes, a spray of winked-at coincidences (including all those Steves), and, too patly, a tear-jerking death. They are all neatly done, both in the writing and in performance; Nixon gets lovely, layered work from the sharp-tongued cast, especially Matt McGrath as Steven, Ashlie Atkinson as Carrie, and Mario Cantone as Matt, a role that might have been custom-sewn directly onto his flesh. But the play doesn't really hang together; it keeps digging and darting like a squirrel trying to rediscover its acorns....As solid as Nixon's work with the actors is, her staging has a slightly awkward, throw-everything-up-there-and-see-what-sticks quality.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: Right-wingers like Mike Huckabee think same-sex marriage is the end of civilization. Actually, it's only the beginning of some very tedious playwriting...Gerrard does borrow from the Terrence McNally school of insult humor. Kristin Chenoweth, Audra McDonald and Kate Capshaw (really, Kate Capshaw?) are trashed in jokes that don't land..."Steve" makes a not-profound statement about communication in the age of iPhones and texting...Under Cynthia Nixon's direction, these extended moments of projected text don't say a lot about communication in the modern age. They do rank as the two most dramatically inert scenes to be performed on a New York stage this season.

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Photo Credit: Monique Carboni

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