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at The Complex

This evening of two one-acts carries the title of the second, a surprisingly subtle play that follows two young gentlemen as they negotiate an evening of mutual S&M in a very affordable-looking hotel room (a wonderland of grime designed by David Clark Smith). Kevin Michael West wrote and directs both plays, and in this instance displays a nuanced hand in each area. The boyishly attractive Mark Gaddis at first appears miscast in the dominant role of James, but it soon becomes clear that leather-clad master isn't really the character's style anyway. Tommy, the submissive half, is played by Francis Aquino in a manner refreshing and delightful. Tommy has been around this block, albeit bound and gagged, many times, and the actor skillfully negotiates the power shift as it becomes obvious that Tommy is going to have to play guide. Gaddis resembles a very young, smooth Jeff Daniels, and the inherent wholesomeness works well for the part. He graciously underplays the role to give Aquino the opportunity to shine, which he does. Aquino's timing when taking a phone call while tied up (literally) is impeccable, and there's not a facet of the character he doesn't reveal in myriad tiny moments. The actors share a wonderful give and take, and the production as a whole has a curious delicacy for something that involves leather dog collars.

This is preceded, however, by something called A Fairy's Tale, a clumsy, overly long, and generally unclever effort that seems to come from another source entirely. Gaddis survives this one but just barely, playing the naive country boy coming to the castle to seek his prince. He sketches in a few other characters, as well. He's paired with Dudley Beene, an actor about whom it can be said without equivocation that the choices he makes are big and bold; I just didn't much care for most of them. The script is silly, even for a gay faux fairy tale, and the pacing is killed by the choppiness of short scenes broken by lengthy periods during which the actors change costumes. West's illustrations used to establish location are quite charming however, and it's a shame this production couldn't reflect the same quality. Both shows are double-cast.

Presented by and at The Complex, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 & 8 p.m. Jun. 9-Jul. 15. (323) 960-7789.

Reviewed by Wenzel Jones

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