By Mark Finley
Directed by Jeff Seabaugh
Native Aliens Theatre Collective (726-8891)
22 W. 34th St.
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Mark Finley's new play, Civilized, is about five gay men in New York City whose lives are interconnected by friendship and sex. This is not an original subject for a play, but Finley's script seems remarkably fresh. Yes, the chatty, catty banter resembles Love! Valour! Compassion!; the wisecracks sound like Jeffrey; the bisexual love triangle and the estranged couple with one HIV-positive partner are reminiscent of Angels in America. None of these elements or storylines dominates the play, though; Finley has developed all his characters and subplots so amply that he has created a singular, involving work. The dearth of gay stereotypes and the presence of a well-defined female character also boost the play's originality.

Rather than just being gay personalities, the men in Civilized have real, varied personalities-and they happen to be gay. Nobody is shrill, flamboyant or a musical-theatre buff.The one actor who does play a vapid gym rat (in multiple roles) is referred to as The Type. By defining the characters by more than their sexual orientation, Finley thoughtfully and movingly explores attitudes toward commitment, fidelity, and mortality that could affect anybody.

Civilized has other assets as well: clever use of language, excellent acting, and some amusing choreography. The play opens with a ballet that depicts the men's preening for an afternoon at the Central Park Ramble. At the end of Act 1, the turmoil in the various relationships is expressed in an ensemble disco number. The Act 2 "dances" are not so entertaining-they don't have much purpose, and they extend a long act. Civilized does take too long to reach its conclusion; until the play started to drag, the interesting characters and their romantic entanglements easily engaged the audience.

Those characters include Scott (Igor Goldin), whose desire for an orderly, "civilized" existence has been shattered by his HIV diagnosis; Scott's lover, Tim (Craig Skelton), who is torn between his loyalty to Scott and his need for emotional and sexual release; and Carter (Robert Locke), Tim's ex-lover and best friend, who for the first time wants more than lust in a relationship. All three performances were strong. Filling out the male cast were Denton Tarver, whose versatility and looks served him well as The Type, and Mike McGowan, whose portrayal of a bisexual was balanced enough to make his girlfriend's and boyfriend's ignorance of the situation credible. Melissa Marlin added a lot to the show, not just because she had a significant role in the type of play that often omits or marginalizes women but also because she played that role with charm and poignancy.

NativeAliens, incidentally, is the theater company formerly known as Two Rivers-which, under the old name, won a 1998 OOBR Award for a drag adaptation of the movie Pillow Talk.

(Sets/lighting, Christian D. Cargill; costumes, Mary Tarochione)
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1998 Adrienne Onofri