In theater, as in life, sociopolitical issues from the past often recur, evoking a sense of déjà vu. Patrick Wilde's seriocomic play about teenage gay angst premiered in England in 1993, when Britain's repressive government edicts attempted to squelch open expressions of homosexuality. Wilde's play, incisively directed by Michael Matthews in a superb revival, arrives amid frequent U.S. news reports of gay bullying and gay-teen suicides, while suppressive legislation such as Proposition 8 and policies such as "don't ask, don't tell" proliferate.
Coming out of the closet is certainly not an easy path for repressed 16-year-old Steven (Daniel Taylor), who nervously loiters around a public restroom, hoping to make romantic connections with other men, as he longingly pores over his copy of "Romeo and Juliet." Nothing seems to pan out, until Steven's Prince Charming—John (Miles Heymann), the most popular guy on campus—shows up at the loo, and the two young men make arrangements to get together. Yet happiness isn't right around the corner. Steven's obstacles include John's homophobic guilt and the worsening harassment of Steven by classmates. Lending support to Steven is his witty best friend, Linda (delightfully played by Kelly Schumann), who's too endearing to be relegated to the pejorative category "fag hag." Serving as a Greek chorus of sorts is the middle-aged closeted teacher Simon Hutton (the captivating Kevin Fabian), who is sympathetic to Steven's travails. He shares wry observations with the audience.
Though there is poignancy in Steven's struggles, the driving energy of Wilde's script comes from the various characters' humorous idiosyncrasies. In a luminous lead portrayal, Taylor finds the perfect balance between self-effacing irony and vulnerability. Equally fine is Heymann, who brings out multiple dimensions in his role, tempering the moments when John could almost be viewed as an insensitive lout with signs of this guy's inner struggles. A strong ensemble (Melinda Augustina, Rick Cosnett, Todd Gaebe, Matthew Henerson, Al Jones, and Susane E. Lee) lends support, some of the actors playing multiple roles.
Like classics such as "The Boys in the Band" (1968), Wilde's play captures a slice of gay history that transcends its specificity to illuminate timelessly relevant human truths.
Presented by and at the Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Sept. 9-Oct. 29. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (323) 957-1884. www.celebrationtheatre.com.