Sometimes you've just got to save the best for last, and that's exactly what The Little Room Downstairs Theater has done with its season
finale production of Kevin Elyot's My Night with Reg. The Oliver Award-winning play is the best script the theater has come up with this year. The British comedy of manners about gay life in the '80s is filled with a funny tenderness that glistens with an exquisitely dark lining of bitter irony.
The audience is flung back into the innocent '80s when Phil Collins ruled the airwaves and AIDS was still just a frightening rumor, in the days before everybody knew somebody who'd gotten sick and died. But even in the sweet times there were cautious men. And Guy (Jimmy Phillips) is a very cautious man, so much so that he has all but given up sex "with things as they are." His friends tease him, saying he has taken "safety to an extreme. He masturbates in garden gloves."
My Night with Reg
runs through August 21 at The Little Room Downstairs Theater
2325 Bissonnet, (713) 523-0791. $15.
The truth is that Guy has reduced his sexual escapades to a strange S&M relationship he starts with a fellow over the phone. His buddies, though, carry on as though they haven't heard about AIDS, taking on lovers and being unfaithful. Only the audience knows how right Guy is to be so afraid.
But don't go expecting the usual tearjerking AIDS tale. Elyot has found something completely new to say about the disease, something anthropologically fascinating. Instead of concentrating on the obvious sadness of death, the play goes back to the beginnings of the disease and examines the early collective denial about AIDS.
Even more stunning, Elyot manages to examine this head-in-the-sand mentality without passing blame. A smart plot twist at the end explodes any myths the audience might hold about the disease. The result is a very intelligent and large-hearted examination of an idiosyncratic moment in history.
It's the characters who make this story so appealing. And Little Room has put together one of the best casts to hit a Houston stage this season. Phillips's Guy is a warm, round-faced fellow who knits and makes a great listener. We hear all about who's sleeping with whom because everyone tells Guy everything. Of course no one thinks about Guy in a sexual way, much to his dismay. Even Eric (Spencer McCormack), Guy's young and studly house painter, giggles at the very notion of sleeping with him.
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The hugely talented McCormack plays Eric as a kind kid with a beautiful smile who has got more on the ball than the older men surrounding him. He sees the world as it is, full of longing, hope and disappointment.
Old sot Daniel, played with great, big-armed gusto by Beach Vickers, lives a lie. He happily toasts "to sodomy," hugs his friends and is blind to the fact that his lover of many years "was a good fuck" to many men. One of them was John (Greg Coles), the irresponsible ne'er-do-well whom Guy has secretly adored for years. John's an empty heart. About his own mother's death he says that she died "just in time. I'd nearly run out of what Dad left me." He brings Guy a housewarming gift, a recipe book titled Cooking for One. A long-time bickering couple, Benny (John Kaiser) and Bernie (Paul Sidello), complicate the story.
Under the quick and fine direction of Marcy Bannor, these men create a microcosm of gay life back in the '80s, just when life was getting complicated.
My Night With Reg runs through August 21 at The Little Room Downstairs Theater, 2325 Bissonnet, (713) 523-0791. $15.