Boys battle for love in ‘Beautiful’

No arguments here: Love is a beautiful thing. But getting out of its way? That can sometimes turn ugly.

Playwright Jonathan Harvey points out the severe, if not delicate, emotional tightropes humans tend to walk on the journey toward understanding such things as love in his heralded work “Beautiful Thing.”

The play — which unfolds in what promises to be a stirring 10-year anniversary production at San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre — runs through Jan. 3.

But don’t expect the show directed by Andrew Nance to expose too many haunting undercurrents of the psyche. It’s actually a tender and amusing love story set in a South London housing project, where two young men (Jamie and Ste) discover significant value in their attractions toward each other.

Most may recall the memorable film version of Harvey’s work, which hit theaters in 1996. But there’s something about experiencing the piece live that tugs at the heart and provokes thought on an entirely different level.

“When I read the dialogue, it seemed very natural, very slice-of-life,” says Ben Carver, who plays Jamie Engel. “No one really has their ‘moment,’ and it’s not really theatrical, as most plays tend to go. It’s very much like we’re dropping in on these people who have been having conversations. I think that’s the appeal.”

It doesn’t hurt that the production boasts additional identifiable characters. Besides Jamie — a shy young man coming to terms with his own sexuality — there’s his persistent, perhaps impatient, mother, his female friend — an outsider like himself — and, of course, the object of his affections, Ste, whose challenging home life factors into the mix.

Fireworks come from Jamie’s mother once the young men’s affections begin to blossom, but theatergoers may also appreciate the piece’s other themes, which relate to being an outsider and coming to terms with oneself.

The work is dubbed an urban fairy tale, yet Carver says it’s actually based in reality.

After reading through it, he says he took pause. “I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve experienced these moments; I’ve experienced this.’”

The beautiful thing is, so has everybody else.

IF YOU GO

Beautiful Thing

Where: New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Jan. 3
Tickets: $18 to $40
Contact: (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org

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