Keith Curran’s “The Stand-In” epitomizes the best in small theater: A sharp, funny script enlivened in an intimate setting by an adept cast and directed with precision by Ray Cochran. Along the way, the playwright skewers nearly anything that moves, including filmmakers, publicists, talkshows, award shows, religions, gay activists, journalists and musician Yanni.
Ex-soap opera hunk Lester Perry (Hank Stratton) has taken a lead role in a cable made-for about a gay, Jewish umpire-turned-competitive tango dancer. It’s considered a risky choice because its a role where his own sexuality will be questioned.
Perry, who’s wary of anything “gay,” uses a stand-in (Bjorn Johnson) for the most intimate scenes, to the chagrin of his co-star, Cody (Gareth Williams). Cody, a straight method actor with a mission, wonders what Perry fears.
Essentially he fears himself. His good looks have kept him from questioning his confused needs and objects of love, but now the press is causing commotion. To squelch rumors, he dates and beds provocative starlet Festa Longo (a dynamic Kristen Johnson) although he secretly admires his tango instructor, Gordon (David Pittu). When a cover story in Queer Times announces that Perry is gay, Perry does everything he can to fight it.
Playwright Curran offers quick asides that comment on culture without forgetting the story’s main narrative question: Will Perry break out of his shell? Curran creates memorable one-liners but much of the humor derives from character, coming across clearly from a well-chosen cast.
Stratton has a tough balancing act, having to play assuredly an actor who doesn’t play assuredly — adeptly showing emotion inside a character who tries to hide anything revealing. It’s a taut wire, and Stratton stays on.
Johnston is as vivid as her metallic outfit (great costume design by Zoe Dufour).The other actors play a number of parts fluidly: Amy Hohn plays five roles, while Peter Gregory plays seven. K. Todd Freeman strikes strong chords as both an entertainment newscaster and as a gay journalist.
Robert Keith Watson and Scotty Bloch shine in a scene as Lester’s parents.They echo other characters in the play who appear differently to different people.
Director Cochran keeps things moving rapidly most of the time, aided by a clever set design by Robert W. Zentis, where walls become doors with a quick turn. Only the last two scenes seem long — one bogged down, for instance, in a send-up of an acceptance speech, the other slowed by a long epiphany. Even so, one leaves the theater satisfied.