Meet Steven (Greg Ayers), a quip-prone, middle-aged gay man with middle-aged angst about still feeling desirable.
Meet Stephen (Joey Alvarado), his older, stable, and seemingly trustworthy, spouse.
Meet Steve, trainer to the best friends of Stephen and Steven. Well, you never actually get to meet Steve but he is much discussed and figures prominently in the plot.
Also, meet Steve, a Tony, Grammy and Oscar-winning Broadway composer. Thinking “Sondheim?” You’re right. He’s actually not in the play either, but he is directly and indirectly referenced so often that he definitely has a part to play.
Finally, there’s Esteban (Vaho), the soulful and humpy Twyla Tharp-quoting Argentine dancer-waiter who intersects with them all in one way or another.
Those are just the Steves populating the comedy “Steve” by Mark Gerrard, now at New Conservatory Theatre Center.
There’s also Carrie (Clove Galilee), an equally quippy, cancer-fighting lesbian blogger and communal fag hag for the boys in this band. She and Steven and Matt (Daniel Redmond) were all singing waiters with Broadway baby dreams.
Then Steven met Stephen and Matt met Brian (ShawnJ West). Carrie also met someone, who left her, with cancer, forever earning the sobriquet of a four-letter epithet for disagreeable women that is frequently deployed in the dialogue.
Confused? Don’t be. That’s about as complex as things get in this often amusing, mostly lightweight effort directed with panache by Becca Wolff.
Everything seems to revolve around Steven, which is precisely how he thinks life should work. In Steven’s self-centered world view everything should be pretty, and witty, and very, very gay. All the time.
So when life is inconvenient — as with Carrie’s cancer or a techno-betrayal by Stephen — he denies, melts down and then acts out, again and again, inviting a lot of tea and not much sympathy.
Truth is, he’s not a very nice person, so why spend 90 minutes (no intermission) with him? For Gerrard’s bitingly funny showtune-laced dialogue ripped from high-drama-high-camp.
Also, for a smart ensemble of actors who wholeheartedly embrace their characters in all their preening glory, moral ambiguity, self-delusion and occasional dignity.
If the scenes don’t demonstrate that consistent “Hey, old friend!” patina of familiarity among the company the set-up suggests, the laughs are frequent enough to keep distracting you.
There is also an ample dollop of serious, courtesy of Carrie’s diagnosis which – in a nicely handled plot device — gives the piece enough weight to keep from floating away. It would be a poignant ending, but Gerrard tacks on an unnecessary epilogue that weakens rather than resolves.
Still, if there’s no tune like a showtune for you, then you should meet “Steve.”
Presented by New Conservatory Theatre Center
Where: Walker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays–Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes March 31
Tickets: $25 to $55
Contact: (415) 861-8972, nctcsf.org