The Lust Boys

Sex is easy; love is hard. That's the point, no matter how fractured, of Theatre on Broadway's 2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night, a story that sets out to demonstrate just how difficult it is to make emotional connections these days. It's peopled with gay characters, but these same themes of alienation, vulnerability and desperation have wound through many a straight love story.

The script, by James Edwin Parker, is an accurate enough depiction of the human struggle for companionship, but it can get awfully sentimental. In Parker's tale, graphic designer Daryl meets working-class hunk Peter at a bar one night and brings him home. But Daryl wants more from Peter than a one-night stand. So he wakes Peter up at 4 a.m. to talk. Peter would rather have sex, but Daryl resists--kindly but firmly--because what really matters to him is finding a connection.

Somehow, Daryl prevails and Peter unloads his past--just enough to stimulate interest, but not enough to truly reveal himself. He's a bit of a hard case--a Hunter College dropout who likes construction and just wants to be happy. Daryl is more forthcoming. He has been hurt too often, and he's acutely aware of how lonely old age can be without someone to share it with. His fear isn't entirely selfish; he hopes Peter might be The One, but as the evening progresses and the guys talk about their past, their old boyfriends and their attitudes toward life, it becomes clear he isn't. Peter continues to resist Daryl's emotional advances, but not until the end of the play do we learn exactly why--a revelation that first puts Peter in a bad light and then in a better one.

Sensitive direction by Nicholas Sugar sweetens many of the play's weaknesses, and fine performances by Steven Tangedal and Justin Adcock help smooth out the rougher edges of Parker's somewhat clumsy script. Sugar keeps this two-person play running like water over rocks. But not even he can make simulated sex on stage seem natural. Just as in the first scene of Passion (recently at the Guild Theatre in Boulder), the sex always looks self-conscious and ungainly. These scenes might work better in a movie, where the illusion of realism is enhanced (paradoxically) by the mechanical nature of the medium. As it is, we never feel like we're there in the same room with the performers, so we never suspend our disbelief.

Tangedal and Adcock are both appealing and believable as they struggle to understand what they need from each other. Tangedal, in particular, achieves an affecting honesty. Still, the story is shallow in its depiction of the need for love and the fear of rejection. The sad tone at the end of the play does ring true, yet it's somehow less than satisfying; the playwright just hasn't asked enough questions of his characters.

One question Parker does raise is this: If what people are really looking for is love--as Daryl is--then why do they settle so readily for sex as a substitute? Parker's implication, however awkwardly presented, is that maybe all this easy access to the flesh isn't so great after all. No matter how ferocious the sex drive, it tends to dissipate without love.

2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night, through December 7 at the Theatre on Broadway, 13 South Broadway, 777-3292.


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