Jeffrey is smashing

Sept. 18, 2004, midnight | By Erica Hartmann | 19 years, 5 months ago

Play delves into dealing with the dangers of sex

In a world of AIDS awareness and STD prevention, writer Paul Rudnick explores the effect of so much danger on the love lives of gay men in Jeffrey .

Rudnick, who is also responsible for the screenplays of the sexual identity comedy In&Out and most recently The Stepford Wives , tells the story of the gay Jeffrey who, fed up with arguments about what constitutes "safe" sex, gives up his most favored pastime, sex. As if that wasn't difficult enough for the young man, Jeffrey is then introduced to Steve, who is out-going, sexy and HIV-positive. All the while, Jeffrey's life is turned topsy-turvy as he struggles with being an out of work actor, trying to deal with being "sexual compulsive" and just getting along in the city.

The play, which turned into a movie in 1995, is now being performed by Company 13 (motto: "Young. Brash. Unafraid. Theatre."). Director Chris Lines breathes new life into the script, reviving the feat so prevalent in AIDS victims and the gay community before the advent of treatment cocktails around 1996. Lines' apparently all-straight cast do a fabulous job of embracing mid-1990's, gay New York City and bringing the message of unrelenting romanticism home.

The film is rated R for strong sexuality and language, and that rating certainly applies to the pal as well. While there is no nudity, there are some bold scenes. Company 13 recommends this show for mature audiences due to adult themes and language, and it's a warning that should be heeded.

Despite its ventures into the socially unacceptable, Jeffrey is far and away cute, funny and absolutely heart-warming. It is all about promoting love, especially of the monogamous kind, although in an unconventional way; a boyfriend is at one point described as a "pet that can feed and walk itself." The over-arching theme of the work is for gay men, and by extension everyone to "hate AIDS, not life," and this production is particularly strong and inspiring in spreading its message.

One aspect of the production that Lines praised, and that is indeed praise-worthy, is the cast. The eight cast members take on a veritable army of characters both gay and straight, with flawless, complete transformations. All of the actors are simply stunning in their versatility, but especially Richard Fawley, Matt Gottlieb, Dana Peterson and Jan David-Soutar who become essentially all of New York City.

Granted, many of the characters are heavily wrapped in clichéd stereotypes, accented with high voices, silly gestures and raw silk. The stereotypes can get a little trying, albeit hilarious. However, the main roles of Jeffrey and Steve are, for the most part, original and honest. This contrast allows the play to both ridicule gay society and to make it endearing.

Set Designer Lynne Twining created a marvelous stage which, accompanied by some ingenious props designed by Lines and Stacey Shade, easily slips from, among other locales, a gym to a game show and to the top of the Empire State Building.

Company 13 makes its home at the Top Floor Theatre, which is an excellent venue, specially for students because it's inexpensive and informal. Tickets are $6 or $8 for seniors, and the production runs until Oct. 2. There will be a special performance on Sept. 27 to benefit Chase Brexton Health Services , a non-profit, gay and lesbian heath center in Baltimore.

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