Citilites Theatre pairing Buddy Thomas' gay romantic comedy The Crumple Zone with Mark Campbell's song cycle Songs From an Unmade Bed makes sense at first glance, seeing as how both shows deal with love and loneliness from the point of view of modern New Yorkers pining for the perfect man. But tonally the shows couldn't be separated by a wider gulf.
The Crumple Zone, directed here by Marsha Hollander Parker, treats love with the shticky clumsiness of a sitcom. Terry (Keith Thompson) shares a cramped apartment with Alex (Seth Ward Pyatt), who is currently dating Buck (Troy Turnipseed); Alex is also in a long-term relationship with Matt (Antonio Rodriguez), who has been on the road for more than a year with the touring production of an awful musical. Further complicating matters is Terry's open crush on Buck, who does not reciprocate those feelings.
Terry is intended to be a motor-mouthed whirlwind of bitchiness who periodically erupts in ever-escalating gales of outrageous anger. Thompson, though, seems to be in the wrong key for most of the first act, coming across as shrill and obnoxious. Most of his more obvious punch lines misfire, undone by fumbled delivery. (No wonder Buck doesn't want him.) Turnipseed is strong in the underwritten role of Buck — we know he's handsome and in love with Alex, but that's about it. Devin Przygoda steals both acts with his drunken, predatory Roger, a businessman Terry picks up for a one-night stand that he can't quite consummate. Przygoda's straightforward rapaciousness gets a big laugh when he lets slip details of his own home life — he too has a partner, and it's not whom you might suspect. Thus is revealed one of the few surprises in a show that limps along on cliché, dated pop-culture references and telegraphed jokes.
Songs from an Unmade Bed, however, is a charmer. Justin Ivan Brown stars as an unnamed gay man who can't sleep. Tossing in his titular bed, he recalls all his failed romances and missed connections in eighteen songs that are clever, sly and beautiful. Serving as director and musical director, Seth Ward Pyatt has assembled a fine three-piece band that shares the cramped stage with Brown and plays with a great deal of verve and sophistication. Campbell's lyrics demand nothing less.
"The Other Other Woman" is a jazzy little tune that evokes more depth from the love triangle in two minutes than The Crumple Zone does in ninety. Brown delivers yet another winning performance by imbuing these songs with a sense of the person singing them; his Man is romantic, jealous, charming and suffering from a lassitude of the heart that would make Jacques Brel swear in dismay. But he's also playful — he paws at Cory Webb's cello like a kitten while singing "He Plays the Cello" and vamps his way through "I Want to Go Out Tonight" with a zest that belies the late hour. When the show ends with Brown singing an a cappella paean to striving ever onward (simply entitled "To Sing"), he sends us home on a dreamy cloud of optimism. Love, or even the prospect of love, will do that for you, no matter how tough the night is.