NightCap Theatre launches its premiere season with two comedies that employ humor to dig deeply into the pitfalls and rewards of personal relationships.
There are two one-act plays, each by a different playwright, a "before and after" theme that serves well. The play titled PRE centers on what happens before coitus, as suave chick magnet Douglas has inexplicably "lost interest" in the actual act of sex, despite ample opportunities. Rick Evans plays Douglas, and holds the stage masterfully, whether confiding his problems to the audience, hanging out with his buddy at a bar or chatting up a girl. The part calls for charm, a ready smile and an interesting persona, and Evans has them all.
In the minor role of Marcus, the sidekick, Mark Stanley does extremely well in making the most of his moments, and Michael P. Shukiz nails several character roles, with a cool swagger as a porn star and with a thoughtful mien as a therapist. The talented director Christine Weems has cornered the eye-candy market with three beauties, who have succumbed to the charms of Douglas: Lulu Mire as the attractive waitress Tanya, Erin Elizabeth Reed as the exotic Lorena and Claire Anderson as the blond beauty Sara. They are all excellent, and create an engaging ensemble.
The simple set works well with no blackouts needed, and serves as bar, coffee shop, therapist's office and bedroom. The writing is refreshingly original and humorous, and the playwright (and co-founder of NightCap Theatre), Peter Wittenberg Jr., gives a wide berth to clichés. The wise direction by Christine Weems keeps the pace going and the humor flowing, and Evans holds the play together as a once-charismatic soul whose self-esteem, dependent on a series of successful one-night stands, searches for a way to respect himself without them. The entire package verges on brilliance.
Lightning seems to have struck twice at NightCap Theatre, as POST is very different, but showcases equal talent. In darkness as the play opens, two men make loud love, and as the lights rise, we see them recovering from the explosion. I wrote "men," not "gay men," because playwright Eric James, the other co-founder of NightCap Theatre, is too savvy to pigeonhole his characters, but yes, it does become clear that Dennis (Brad Goertz)) and Chris (Zack Lewis) did enjoy what they were doing.
One question in the play is whether there is such a thing as love at first sight, but even here playwright James has a subtle qualifier -- Chris has seen Dennis once before, but from afar. The conflict is between an older man who seeks no relationship, and a younger one who craves one, but the struggle is played out with originality and surprises, which will not be revealed here.
Goertz gives an authentic, riveting performance, with great comic timing, and Lewis is simply wonderful in capturing the subtleties of a complex role, making the younger man likable, endearing and credible. With such acting skills, director Eva Laporte is commended for evoking these nuances, and especially for permitting the occasional silence as a character wrestles with his soul, and the audience gets to witness the inner turmoil. The two playwrights are longtime friends who decided to form NightCap Theatre to produce local playwrights. This initial offering is so successful that it is clearly a theater troupe to watch, and to be grateful for.
Skilled, nuanced acting and great comic timing illuminate the humor in complex relationships, while deft direction creates a smooth ensemble and highly original writing provides a fresh look at the age-old battle of the sexes, all leading to a delightful and laugh-filled event.
The Coitus Plays continues through February 25 at Obsidian Art Space, produced by NightCap Theatre in association with Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak in the Heights. For information or tickets call 281-788-2319 or contact www.nightcaptheatre.com.
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