Beautiful Thing

What made this gem of a play a cult classic is simple: Jonathan Harvey's straightforward story of two urban-dwelling adolescent boys falling in love remains unflinchingly true to the nature of what it means to discover being different in a cruelly narrow-minded environment. Among all the lighthearted attempts to depict "coming out" in one's teen years as a carefree and liberating experience at the end of the increasingly liberated 20th century, the trauma generated from the dawning notion of growing up gay is a universal challenge for anyone.

In Harvey's moving drama, politics gives way to the lovingly awkward blossoming love between Jamie and Ste (Nathan Frizzell and Michael Tauzin), which, in the capable hands of director Michael Matthews, manages to emerge as a heartfelt yet surprisingly unsentimental journey. Blessed by indelibly lovely, infinitely nuanced performances by Frizzell and Tauzin, every ounce of anguish and ambiguity one would expect from working-class kids finding themselves overcome with the rush of falling in love for the first time, coupled with the feeling of being under attack from an alien sexuality no one is around to help them understand, is explored without a moment of convenient melodrama.

This is enhanced by the glorious Sarah Taylor as Jamie's crusty mother, Sandra, who alternately abandons and smothers him as she painfully attempts to be a good parent. That Sandra and Jamie ultimately save each other in their downwardly spiraling world is the backbone of this play — and rarely has it been expressed so poignantly. There are also two somewhat unfortunate subplots. Despite their obvious talents, Kelly Schumann as a drugged-out neighbor and the painfully miscast Nate Clark as Sandra's boyfriend find themselves in unresolved roles offering little beyond, in Schumann's case, a good deal of comic relief and, for Clark, the trap of contrasting Jamie's gentleness with an overt masculinity the actor has trouble achieving. Still, Matthews and his troupe work wonders staying true to every character, together attaining an exhilarating sense that love can win out sometimes, no matter what society's naysayers preach as right or wrong.

Presented by and at the Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Mar. 16-Apr. 15. (323) 957-1884.