Steve Kluger's After Dark is a Nice Gay Romantic Comedy
After Dark is set in a Los Angeles diner in the wee hours of the morning, five days before Christmas in 1997. Ryan (Markham Miller), a traditional attorney, is looking over an imminent deposition. He is gay but very naïve in the ways of cruising, and very shy about attracting men for a romantic adventure. Craig (Carlos Barrera) enters the coffee shop and notices the young attorney immediately. Craig is a 32-year-old "good time" guy who seems to have had a lot of lovers over the years. He is always on the prowl for some action and Ryan looks pretty good to him. Craig is vain, gorgeous with a builder's body, entertaining and maybe just a little tiresome. He is certainly an aggressor when it comes to sex. With clever wordplay, Craig begins to persuade Ryan to go on a date. Even with the witty repartee, we slowly see each man's fears, expectations and inner longings.
Act two is set five years later when the two have been lovers for four and a half years. Ryan has become a successful playwright of gay plays while Craig has become a lobbyist in the political arena in Washington. They are now separated since, in a moment of weakness, Ryan screwed up the romance by going to bed with another man. Craig was hurt and angry and left their home before an apology or clarification could be given. Both still want to be together, especially Ryan, but Craig is very bullheaded about taking up the romance again. Unbeknownst to each other, they have returned to the coffee shop on this particular night to celebrate their first meeting five years prior. As Shakespeare says "All's well that ends well."
Playwright Kluger has avoided making these gay characters tragic, stereotyped or one dimensional. Much of the dialogue is recycled from straight plays and films. A heterosexual couple could have landed in the same situation as the two characters in After Dark, and that is what makes this comedy so interesting.
Markham Miller (Legion at NCTC) as Ryan and Carlos Barrera (recently played in Bleacher Bums at Pleasanton Playhouse) have good chemistry together. Miller is very charming and touching as the attorney without no romance in his life while a Barrera plays his character as earthier and more audacious. In the second act, Barrera looks like a young Brando dressed in a suit right out of Guys and Dolls.
Laura Osburn has designed a wonderful set that looks like a late night coffee shop in Los Angeles. It even has a Wurlitzer jukebox with records. We hear several songs, from Edie Gorme and Steve Lawrence to the fabulous Ethel Merman. Director John Dixon deserves kudos for staging this quick paced and interesting two-man comedy.
After Dark has been extended through January 15 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness at Market, San Francisco. Tickets are available at the NCTC's box office 415-861-8972 or on line at www.nctscf.org.