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‘Steve’ explores love and friendship

Journal Correspondent

Victor Shopov and Jenny Reagan in Zeitgeist Stage Company’s production of “Steve” by Mark Gerrard running now through March 24. Photo by David J. Miller

MARCH 8, 2018 – Jenny Reagan values the Broadway standards that provide an ongoing frame of reference for the characters in the Mark Gerrard play “Steve.’’

The Westwood native and Jewish actress, a theater major at the UMass-Amherst as well as a marketing manager for an architectural firm, values them and their composers – most of them Jewish – so much so that she suggested to the Journal, “We need to have a guide to the composers (in the playbill).” Of the characters’ lyric allusions and brief singing, Reagan said, “That’s their banter.”

Carrie, her emotionally rich lesbian character, and the two gay couples that Carrie regards as her family regularly relate to classic fare by Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, Lerner and Loewe and Rogers and Hammerstein: “The songs maybe have a different meaning now for these characters.’’

As Steven’s half-Jewish heritage is revealed, his Broadway-focused sensibility can be seen as a variation on what some people describe as cultural Judaism. No matter how these characters’ points of view evolve, Reagan and her fellow cast members deliver a powerful rendition of their respective quests for love and understanding in the intimate Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts.

The title character, a past chorus boy and now stay-at-home Manhattan partner and parent, alludes to Jewish trader Shylock’s famous speech about his humanity in “The Merchant of Venice’’ with the rhetorical variation “Hath not a half-Jew eyes?’’ Steve may not indicate from which parent he derives Jewish ancestry, and the remark may seem to apply only to his sighting of Argentinian-American waiter Esteban. Even so, this ostensibly minor point sets a sub-textual tone for respect. Curiously, Reagan in her brief interview described a personal experience that reflected a need for tolerance and understanding. She recalled that “Back in the Eighties, our whole temple (Temple Beth David) was burned down by an anti-Semite and was totally rebuilt.” Reagan saw the play as equally hopeful. “It’s poignant and relatable for all people.”

As Gerrard’s play proceeds, Steven sometimes rages about the possibility that his lawyer partner Stephen has been unfaithful. Eventually Stephen admits to sexting after the recovery of his cellphone – found in the possession of the partners’ unseen child Zack – reveals his indiscretion. Alex Jacobs, a Brandeis teacher who described himself in an interview as “sort of an adopted member of Holocaust survivor Kati Preston’s family for seven years” and who plays Stephen, personally regards his character’s sexting as a kind of cheating rather than the gray area it seems to Stephen. Could Steven be retaliating with charming Esteban? Will Steven and Stephen reach an understanding? Will Carrie, vulnerable in both relationship and health, help the realization of such an understanding?

Gerrard’s play not only deals with the complexities of this gay ‘extended family’ but also convincingly suggests that the characters’ relationships and situations are universally telling and compelling.

Zeitgeist artistic director David J. Miller keeps the pacing tight and the cast members’ characterizations vivid. Victor Shopov’s Steven may sound a bit too volatile in the early going, but he soon modulates his tone so that his character’s insecurities become as noticeable as his anger. Reagan brings both strong feeling and growing fragility to her portrayal of cancer-ridden Carrie.  Jacobs perfectly captures Stephen’s ambivalence and internal conflict – especially during a singular I-Phone exchange with Mike Nilsson, properly overly sensual as Brian, the partner of Steven’s best friend Matt. Mikey Di Loreto catches Matt’s reflective nature – particularly in a scene-stealing moment of candid advice with Steven. Adam Boiselle makes the most of ubiquitous Esteban’s combination of grace and geniality. Michael Clark Wonson’s nuanced lighting smartly underscores characters’ moments of tension and understanding.

“Steve’’ is as much a celebration of friendship and love that withstand mistrust as a sharp examination of gay relationships. Zeitgeist Stage makes that examination a vital experience for all theatergoers.

“Steve,” Zeitgeist Stage Company, Black Box Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, through March 24. Call 617-933-8600 or visit bostontheatrescene.com.

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