Queerly comical


Although some of the performances in <i>Jeffrey</i> are better than others, the actors and audience generally seem to have a gay old time.<br>

Although some of the performances in Jeffrey are better than others, the actors and audience generally seem to have a gay old time.

Photo by David Robert

Rated 3.0

When I was in college, I worked on many student theater productions. I had opportunities to see amazing and not-so-amazing works in a run-down, under funded venue. And I loved every minute of it.

Reno Riverfront Theatre’s production of Jeffrey, showing in conjunction with Reno Gay Pride 2003, brought me back to my college days. Opening night for the tiny underground theater was exactly what you’d expect. I could smell paint drying. The seats were rickety and too close together. The spotlights bounced off the head of the man in front of me. And the actors struggled with remembering lines. General awkwardness. But I had fun, nonetheless.

Jeffrey, written by Paul Rudnick and directed by University of Nevada, Reno student Tyler Dean in his directorial debut, tells the funny story of a young gay man in New York, who is frustrated with the pitfalls of love in the age of AIDS. Jeffrey (Steve Martens) swears off sex in exchange for peace of mind. That is, until he meets the man of his dreams and must decide between his personal commitment and love everlasting. Enter into the mix that the object of Jeffrey’s affections, Steve (Bradford Ka’ai’ai), is HIV-positive.

Martens and Ka’ai’ai together created little chemistry on stage, and Martens’ Jeffrey was difficult to like. He seemed angry at inappropriate places, his angst came across as whining, and he didn’t seem worthy of the deep affection Ka’ai’ai’s Steve held for him.

Ka’ai’ai held his own as Steve. But as did most of the actors in Jeffrey, he seemed stilted, just awkward enough that the play felt long at times, and made me feel uncomfortable for them. When Steve tried to woo Jeffrey, it seemed he was trying a little too hard to get the jerk to like him. I kept wanting to shout, “He’s not worth the trouble!”

The bizarre couple was backed by Tony DeGeiso (Sterling) and Dominic Lopez (Darius), who played a gay couple urging Jeffrey to face his demons and get a boyfriend, already. The fact that one of them had AIDS added drama and tragedy to what was mostly a comedy. Lopez’s performance as Darius was weak and difficult to watch. DeGeiso was slightly better, although he often forgot his lines; maybe it was opening night jitters.

Performances to watch are those of ensemble players Bill Ware and Susan Lingelbach. They had great comedic timing and seemed the most believable of the bunch. Fine moments included a hilarious scene between Jeffrey and Father Dan, a Catholic priest (Ware) who wasn’t exactly holier than thou, as well as a funny take on motivational speakers (Lingelbach). Jeffrey had many funny moments, and I laughed frequently during the two-plus hours.

Whether my struggles with watching the play were due to an inexperienced director and actors, the difficulty of the subject or the uncomfortable chairs, overall, Jeffrey is still worth watching. You will laugh—hard—and that makes it all worthwhile.