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End of the World Party

Reviewed by Karl Levett

Presented by Kings Road Entertainment in association with Tim Ranney at the 47th Street Theatre, 304 W. 47th St., NYC. Opened Nov. 9 for an open run.

There's a scene that opens Act II of Chuck Ranberg's new comedy, "End of the World Party," that augurs well for this playwright's stage debut. Three male couples, unromantically attached, at night on a Fire Island beach, sit looking at the stars and ruminating on their lives. It is a simple scene that is theatrically complex—quietly delineating character while being poignantly bittersweet. If not all of the play aspires to this summit, there's enough evidence here that playwright Ranberg's continued writing for the theatre should definitely be encouraged. Add to this Ranberg's ability to provide volley after volley of hilarious one-liners (as befits a writer for TV's "Frasier"). This is a playwright who should not be allowed to get away.

This most entertaining play about six gay men sharing a Fire Island summer home is essentially conventional, even if some of the content may not be deemed so. And if you think you've already seen that play, you'll find that Ranberg has redeemed the genre with wit and genuine feeling for character that places this several notches above most gay ghetto theatre. The linchpin of the house is Hunter (Jim J. Bullock), he of the ever-ready comeback. His friends are age-conscious Roger (Christopher Durham), mourning-his-dead-lover Travis (David Drake), sexually compulsive Will (Anthony Barrile), hard-bitten, drug-taking Nick (Russell Scott Lewis), and neophyte Phil (Brian Cooper). Add to the mix young Chip (Adam Simmons) and stir vigorously. The inevitable party of the title is, in Hunter's words, "Long Labor Day's Journey Into Night."

Under Matthew Lombardo's sympathetic directon, the production has been superbly cast. Not a weakness in sight, and if Durham's Roger lingers in the mind, it's probably because Ranberg has provided him with the play's most fully rounded character. Assisted by Michael Gilliam's evocative lighting, Christopher Pickart's set for the small stage is inventive, including the inspiration to turn the aisle into a Fire Island boardwalk. Finally, for flavor, a quote from Hunter, emerging with a massive hangover, "I feel like Marilyn Monroe—had she lived!"

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