At first glance Kevin Elyot's 1994 London seriocomedy, in its U.S. premiere, bears a resemblance to Mart Crowley's watershed gay drama, The Boys in the Band (1968). Like Boys it begins at a party attended by gay male friends and revolves around a series of surprising revelations. But after laying the groundwork for a witty and intriguing concept, Elyot's play makes a gradual nosedive into a routine soap opera. It's ironic that the Knightsbridge's mounting of Reg is markedly superior to the company's current rendition of Boys (now moved to Knightsbridge L.A.). Take your pick between this skillful production of a mediocre gay play and the highly uneven rendition of Crowley's far more accomplished classic.
Director/designer Dana Moran Williams has a solid grip on the best elements of Elyot's script and does his best to energize the meandering second act. This is a play that doesn't really go where you think it's going, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that the place where it opts to go seems stale and lacking cohesion. The basic setup initially revolves around the unseen title character and his death from AIDS complications. After Reg dies, we discover that many of the characters have secretly slept with him. Several other sexual attractions surface, having little to do with the themes of Reg's active libido or AIDS, which more or less dissipate in the process. The myriad story threads lead to a fuzzy and unremarkable resolution.
Heading a mostly impressive cast, David Ferguson elicits strong empathy in the central role of Guy, a pleasant thirty-something fellow holding a housewarming for his new flat. Ferguson captures both the gentle humor and underlying melancholy of this lonely guy, who has long carried an unrequited torch for his absentee friend, John. James Lunsford invests the role of the irresponsible John with fewer shadings than are evident in the script. As Daniel, Jon Cohen makes a moving transition from flamboyant exuberance to sorrow, as he discovers that his deceased lover Reg was chronically unfaithful. In the roles of a sparring couple, Jim Barkley amuses as the neurotic Bernie, while Paul Duff garners equal laughs as his straying boyfriend Benny. Alex Stone scores as young Eric, a would-be boy toy, who seems more emotionally balanced than any of his elder pals. The British accents are imperfect but reasonably effective compared with what one often hears locally.
Williams' attractive white-and-beige set is meticulously detailed, a quantum leap from the scenic designs we've viewed in past Knightsbridge productions. His lighting is atmospheric but sometimes keeps the actors' faces in darkness for too long. He also provides credible sound effects and well-chosen incidental music. Based on Williams' success level with this problematic piece, we'd love to see him tackle some Crowley-caliber material.