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'Steve' helps Buffalo United Artists retain its youthful glow

No quarter-life crisis has afflicted Buffalo United Artists, the plucky Buffalo theater company now celebrating its 25th anniversary with charming a production of Mark Gerrard's comedy "Steve."

The show, appropriately, deals with the ravages of age. And it sits right in BUA's sweet spot, combining a dash of soap opera with a pinch of sitcom and a touch of camp to produce a moving look into the lives of gay Americans in the early 21st century.

"Steve" has a clear antecedent in Mart Crowley's 1982 classic "The Boys in the Band." Both feature drama-filled birthday parties and are preoccupied with age.

But Gerrard's take on relationship dynamics among a group of New York City gay men and their mutual lesbian friend has a distinctly contemporary flavor. The pursuits of its characters are tinged by new technological outlets for infidelity and changing attitudes about monogamy.

Like "The Boys in the Band," the production opens on a particularly mirthless birthday party for Steven (Eric Rawski), who plops himself down in a huff across from his longtime boyfriend Stephen (Michael Seitz) and next to his best friend Carrie (Caitlin Baeumler Coleman).

Something is clearly gnawing at Rawski's character, a frustrated former dancer clinging desperately to the last fleeting bits of youth. The same yearning for youth is also at work on Stephen, in a different and perhaps more dangerous way.

Dysfunction abounds. It takes variously amusing and serious pathways between Steven and Stephen, between their longtime friends (Timothy Finnegan and David Granville) and between each of them and their sassy lesbian friend Carrie, who happens to be dying from cancer.

Toss in the stock character of a cute Argentinian waiter character played by BUA newcomer Zachary Bellus along with several dozen musical theater references, and you've got the makings of a very special episode of "Friends."

The somewhat rote setup and occasional clunkiness of Gerrard's script is elevated by some fine performances. Chief among them is Rawski's rendering of Steven, which starts out as a rigid portrayal of the bitter middle-aged guy at the gay bar and soon softens into a three-dimensional portrait of a man in crisis.

The most touching scenes in the play come when Steven has his heart-to-hearts with Carrie, recalling the glory of his youth and reliving the ups and downs of their own love-hate relationship.

Moving performances also come from Coleman, whose sassy self-defense melts into genuine pathos as the gravity of her character's situation sinks in, as well as from Seitz as an uptight lawyer engaged in a bit of digital cheating with Finnegan's character.

Gerrard's writing is often fresh and funny, especially in scenes featuring the entire group and between Steven and Carrie. It slyly inserts asides and moments of magical realism without overdoing it. But sometimes, as in an extended phone call and texting session featuring Seitz, it slogs.

On opening night, there were issues with lighting that are sure to be resolved as the run progresses.

In sum, for BUA fans, this 25th anniversary production of "Steve" will make them feel right at home. Judging only by its enthusiasm and its dedication to telling the stories of the LGBT community, this company has not aged a day.

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

Theater Review

3 stars (out of four)

"Steve," a comedy produced by Buffalo United Artists in the Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley, runs through Feb. 11. Tickets are $15 to $25. Call 886-9239 or visit buffalobua.org.

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