Scott Douglas Cunningham (l.) and international recording artist/actor Paul Lekakis . Photo by Holly McDade
Playwright James Edwin Parker, Director David Drake and two of the sexiest actors on the planet have conspired to launch an emotional roller coaster of a play that is guaranteed to resonate with everyone gay or straight, male and female who has sought to "connect". We have all been on one side or the other of this coin and probably, at different times, both.
As the small packed theater at the Tides Playhouse fills no one at first notices the man lying motionless face down asleep on the bed onstage.
A bit like a reverse first date Daryl (Scott Douglas Cunningham ) revisits his bed to awaken Peter (Paul Lekakis ) a hunk of a man with whom , we soon learn, he had an intense sexual encounter earlier in the evening after picking him up in a notorious gay bar. Now he wants to "talk" (a term guaranteed to deflate desire in many relationships).and talk he does, the manic talk of the emotionally insecure who have gone out on a limb sexually and now want to add meaning to a purely physical encounter. Daryl is the "pretty" boy of the pair and Peter, the " hottie ". While their physical needs were mutual it soon becomes apparent their emotional needs differ greatly. Daryl has a desperate need to "connect" while Peter is determined not to.
In the emotional see saw of the night Daryl seems at first in charge. It is his apartment and his inquisition - before he wakens Peter he lights two out of five candles and seems to pray. We learn that he classifies relationships into five levels: the first two he already acheived, remaining unlit are love, affection, commitment, the three levels yet to be reached. Now he relentlessly pulls information out of the reluctant Peter: his past, his education (philosophy major, - as a brief college attendee - a shocker for a man who has been a go go dancer in a disco and now a construction worker). When Darryl, a graphics designer, makes a snotty jibe at Peter's blue collar lifestyle Peter suddenly rears back and jabs "that is your first strike, you have two more and you're are out". As he subtly but definitively takes control Peter calls Daryl a pretty boy who cruised only the best looking " hotties " at the bar hinting at a self defeating desire to fail by reaching for the unattainable, the least likely to form a relationship, in obvious enjoyment of their freedom.
The play is constructed as a reverse date, starting with nudity and sexual intimacy, then drinks, and the pursuit of emotional intimacy through conversation, then clothed. Darryl decides to dress while Peter is in the bathroom, thus metaphorically protecting himself against the reversal in roles as Peter starts deflecting the questions with his own, withholding a return to the bed and sex for which the increasingly needy Daryl practically begs in an attempt to reestablish their connection.
Its true confession time as they compare their first sexual experiences. On Daryl's dresser is the school ring he claims he exchanged with his first lover among other artifacts which become significant later on in the okay .. He is relentlessly pressured by Peter to reveal that he has not had a significant relationship since ("I can't seem to get beyond three dates").
The night descends into its own kind of madness as illusions are stripped away and Peter peels layer after layer away of Daryl's facade until he finally snaps and what started as a sexual romp ultimately reveals the dark side of both men: Daryl's pathological needs and Peter's grim secret of his own.
Neatly following the arc of a reverse date it isn't until the last moments that Peter stops toying with Daryl and mentions him by name. It was after all only a two candle night.
Scott Douglas Cunningham and Paul Lekakis couldn't have been more perfectly cast each giving a strong, arduous performance. Under David Drake's taut direction, and Parker's ability to dole out facts tantalizingly slowly, there is nothing extraneous in the production, neither word nor movement. Michael Spina's sensitive lighting underscores the emotions of the long night. It is a script full of surprises, some delivered, some only hinted at. But the complexities of connecting stay with you long after the abrupt final scene.
That the house was packed on a post season Sunday closing night is a reflection of the play's merits. This is an off off-Broadway play with Broadway sensibilities.
Produced by the Island Repertory Theatre