Paul Rudnick’s Jeffrey is not your typical romantic comedy. Oh, it’s got all the elements: boy meets boy, boy drives boy away with his fear-driven neurosis, boy gets boy back. But the boys in question are living in New York during the ’90s, and HIV/AIDS has altered the landscape for any sort of romance.Poor Jeffrey has decided, in response to the threat of illness and death, that giving up sex is the answer. And his conflation of sex with death isn’t the only problem here (if that’s all the play did, it would undoubtedly be a favorite among gay bashers; uptight, prudish abstinence-only advocates; and repressive Republicans). The real problem is that Jeffrey, like most of us, can’t really separate sex from love.
The fun and the heartbreak in the play is all about teaching Jeffrey that he’s not supposed to separate sex and love, and that it’s the impermanence of life that makes love important.
Under the direction of Kevin Leonard (widely worshipped in these parts for his frequent and dynamic lead performance in Hedwig and the Angry Inch), The Lambda Players production moves along so well that any rough spots (whether in performance or in the play’s age) are smoothed over quickly. What’s more, Chris Plank’s performance in the lead role is impeccable, with just the right note of self-involvement to be exasperating rather than annoying. The gorgeous Curtis Brown is Steve, the irresistible, HIV-positive love interest, and Jeffrey’s closest friends, Sterling (Robin Breault) and Darius (Aaron Michael Hitchcock) demonstrate ably how love works when you’re not afraid of it.
The supporting players take on a variety of roles, ranging from mother to Mother Theresa, with good humor; the real standout here is the indomitable Bethany Hidden, who breaks out for a star turn as a post-modern evangelist. Also worth noting is the sensible balance between detail and flexibility struck by set designer Roy Semerdjian.
In spite of a handful of dated jokes, Jeffrey retains both some good laughs and the ability to inspire us to take risks of the right kind.