Real life has never been quite so fascinating as it is in Steve, the new play by Mark Gerrard receiving its world-premiere production by The New Group. An unflinching look at 21st century domestic life, this comedy is moving, heartwarming and unsettling all at the same time.
Matt McGrath stars as (one of the) Steve in the group, playing a former chorus boy who never quite reached stardom. He is partnered with Stephen, played by the wonderfully understated and moving Malcom Gets, and the two are raising an adopted son. His best friend, Carrie (Ashlie Atkinson), is fighting terminal cancer, while Matt (Mario Cantone) and his partner Brian (Jerry Dixon) make up the other members of the urban family.
What makes Steve, which is directed by Cynthia Nixon, so fascinating is that it is not about fighting for gay rights. (That’s been explored, and beautifully, in other plays.) Nor is it about coming out to people or being forced to live in the closet. (Ditto). Instead, it is about real life and the everyday challenges and questions that are raised by couples who are aging and don’t want to admit it. Steve and Stephen have been together for 14 years and are raising a child and one of them – or both – might have a wandering eye. Matt and Brian, also a longtime couple, are considering trying something other than monogamy. The audience doesn’t see anyone actually being physically unfaithful, but does sexting count as cheating? These are the questions about life and love that this quintet of friends is facing.
Steve is not a musical, but it’s safe to say it will satisfy musical theatre lovers. The production begins with Gets seated at a piano as the cast members gather round it to sing together, as if they are enjoying themselves at a piano bar. And the dialogue is peppered with references to musical theatre. (At one point, Carrie is told, “You quote Sondheim like a man.”)
This cast acts in such seamless harmony that one would think they have been friends offstage for decades. Allen Moyer’s sets, Tom Broecker’s costumes and Eric Southern’s lighting, accompanied by Olivia Sebesky’s projections, enhance the seamless fluidity of the production, which shows how time passes and lives change, no matter how hard one fights them. But the bittersweet melancholy of Steve is exactly what another Steve – Sondheim himself – has explored through his music for decades. One thinks that can’t be a coincidence.