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Joy

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John Fisher's "Joy" takes audiences on an effervescently romantic ride with a small coterie of gay men and lesbians in San Francisco in the early 1990s.

The play centers on Paul, an overly cerebral Ph.D. student working on a dissertation that he hopes will prove that Christ was gay. Although not looking for a relationship, Paul suddenly finds himself smitten, falling in love, and soon living with the semi-closeted Gabriel. Concurrently, their two lesbian best friends, Kegan and Elsa, fall in love, but Elsa's closetedness prevents their attaining the same cohabitational domestic bliss.

Drifting in and out of these characters' world, where tunes from the American songbook are standard, is Corey, a reader for Paul's dissertation and one of his old flames. Also on hand is Christian, a vapid boy toy whom Kegan once dated. Elsa's friend Darryl only complicates things by making Gabriel look more closely at his coming-out process.

Ben Rimalower provides "Joy" with fluid staging on Wilson Chin's simple set, where a silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge can suddenly appear, lit by stars. Under Rimalower's guidance, Fisher's sparkling dialogue and clever narrative turns that break the fourth wall crackle hilariously to life. The director has elicited strong performances, particularly from leading man Paul Whitthorne, who imbues Paul with grandiose arrogance, self-righteous outrage, and, most important, vulnerability, allowing one to understand why Christopher Sloan's sweet Gabriel would tolerate his more abrasive qualities.

As Kegan, January LaVoy charms, particularly when the character is nervous and overly talkative. The inner strength that LaVoy brings to Kegan is matched perfectly by Ryan Kelly's adorable Elsa, a woman whose all-business faรงade can instantly crumble to romanticism.

Ken Barnett's appropriately pompous Corey, Ben Curtis' shrewd turn as slacker Christian, and Michael Busillo's simply nuanced portrayal of Darryl complete the cast in this buoyant summertime treat.

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