The actors in Party certainly have balls -- I've seen them! It takes courage to bare all in a public place and under stage lights, no less. David Dillon's play about seven gay friends who meet for a party night to play a jazzed-up version of "truth or dare" is a romantic comedy at heart. "All's Well That Ends Naked" might be the Shakespearean title of this play, where being comfortable with acting out sexual fantasies with friends is the norm.
The premise of the play is that a close group of friends meets monthly for some fun. On this night, they gather in Peter and Kevin's apartment for some drinking and game-playing. Among the friends is Ray, a priest who is faithful to his vow of celibacy but is in all other ways a poster-child for gay stereotypes. Played by Thom Crain with an overzealous energy that grows on you as the play progresses, Ray has both the most interesting monologue -- the explanation of why he became a priest -- and the most outdated monologue -- a long diatribe about Madonna in the movie version of Evita. The new member of the group, young college student Andy (Wayne Easter), has a sort of "dumb blonde" role, providing dramatic reasons for Ray to elaborate on icons of gay culture.
Jim Michaels, Richard Strelinger and Colin DeVaughan provide solid support in underwritten roles; by the end of the evening we know that Michaels' character is a dancer, but we know nothing about Strelinger or DeVaughan's characters except that they're Kevin's friends. As Kevin and Andy, platonic roommates turned possible lovers, Ken Haller seems to grow more comfortable in his role as the play progresses, while Anthony Wininger provides a low-keyed but convincing sense of young love.
Credit the playwright with an obvious but successful device that allows him to create suspense and raise the stakes as the evening progresses: the "party game" is a little confusing at first, but eventually works to create tension and humor. Given all the publicity about this being a "dick play," the question for the audience is not "will they get naked?" but "how and when?" They start slowly -- a bare ass, a penis peek, some kissing and rubbing -- and progress to full nudity accompanied by whipped cream and M&Ms. The compelling thing about nudity onstage is that it erases the borders between character and actor -- certainly the actors are still portraying people other than themselves, but there are no wigs and accents when the costumes come off -- it's the real body of a real person in real time and space. It's this fascinating and unavoidable reality that is the strength of the production.
The dialogue, unfortunately, is not always as realistic. There's a veneer of "after-school special" to the script, especially in the discussions of AIDS and safe sex. The romantic conversations between Peter and Kevin often sound more like a very adult soap opera than real people talking. Director Scott Miller hasn't succeeded in helping the actors work around the less-than-stellar dialogue, and their movements often seem planned rather than spontaneous.
The best parts of the play come in real moments of ensemble, such as the group singing of the theme from Jaws at an appropriate moment. It's obvious that the actors are comfortable with each other and with the actions of the play, even if they're not always at ease with the words. The audience, on the other hand, seemed very comfortable with everything -- there was a sense of recognition and an appreciation for both the characters and the actors. An audience member in front of me sighed happily as the play ended and said, "Can we come again tomorrow night?" Perhaps this production illustrates the best possible meaning of the phrase "community theater." This is theater created to celebrate gay culture and community. Given the current legislative atmosphere, perhaps Out of Line Productions' Party is precisely the kind of encouragement that is needed.