When it was produced in L.A. at the Hudson Theatre in 2002, Buddy Thomas' 2000 Off-Broadway dramedy was a breath of fresh air amid a plethora of salacious and witless gay-themed farces. It's a smart blend of the conventions of witty sex comedy with poignant reflections on longing and loneliness in gay relationships. The play's central character, self-destructive waiter–wannabe actor Terry, reminiscent of Michael in Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band, is a tricky role. The actor's task is to find variety, grace notes, and ultimate empathy in this high-strung character. Foremost among the problems in director Elyse Mirto's shoddy, graceless production is Chris Benton as Terry, giving a nails-on-a-chalkboard portrayal, a one-note orgy of unrelenting shrillness.
The amorous escapades of five gay men on Staten Island involve unrequited love, casual sex, and infidelity. Terry carries a torch for his good friend Buck (Allen Gardner), who pines for Alex (Gregory Christian). Alex is cheating on his boyfriend, Matt (David Phillips), an actor who's away on tour in something called Salem's Lot: The Musical. Roger (Brian Robert Harris) is an aggressive, rough trick whom Terry picks up at a bar. The characters' sundry concerns converge on an eventful Christmas Eve in Terry's apartment.
None of Benton's fellow actors do much to counteract his ineffectual lead performance. Gardner has a shrinking-violet stage presence and often swallows his line endings. Harris is miscast as the married stud out for adventure. Phillips and Christian are the only actors who give the impression they might deliver credible characterizations in a solidly directed production. Dime-store bric-a-brac haphazardly stuck on the walls tries to pass for a set, and the lighting and costumes are nothing to shout about. The shouting comes from the actors, who futilely strain for laughs by overplaying everything. The production is further plagued with awkward blocking, tiresome line readings, and a general air of sloppiness. This woebegone Crumble Zone might be aptly titled Kris Krinkle.
Presented by Rebel Films and TheatreWorks in association with and at the Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thu. & Sun. 8 p.m. Nov 2-26. (Dark Nov. 23 &30.) Fri.-Sun. 8 p.m. Dec. 1-17. (818) 985-9903.