There’s some love, at least ostensibly, but certainly not a whit of valor or compassion in Kevin Elyot’s “My Night With Reg,” a joyless, unfunny comedy-drama in which a close-knit (not to say especially loving) group of gay men becomes entangled in infidelities and betrayals in the age of AIDS. The winner of London’s 1995 Laurence Olivier Award for best comedy, “Reg” is unlikely to repeat that success here: Whether the humor is too British or simply nonexistent makes little difference when laugh after laugh falls flat.
Loaded with unlikable characters strung together by the strained plot device of having slept with the same man, “Reg” falls as short dramatically as it does comedically. Struggling for the brittle amorality of Joe Orton, Elyot merely comes across as petty; presented with the potential for farce, or even comedy of manners, director Jack Hofsiss opts for leaden sobriety.
Broken into three scenes, “Reg” follows a group of six London men over the course of several years in the 1980s. The first scene reunites John (Maxwell Caulfield), a handsome roustabout, with his old friends Guy (Ron Bagden) and Daniel (Edward Hibbert) after several years’ estrangement. All are fast approaching 40, with Guy, a rather plain, sad-sack type who is everybody’s best friend and nobody’s lover, secretly in love with the charismatic John since their university days. But John, unbeknownst to his two old pals, has been having an affair with Reg, the longtime lover of the campy, tart-tongued Daniel.
The second scene, about a year later, introduces odd couple Bernie (David Cale) and Benny (Joseph Siravo) into the group, but still no Reg: The gang has come together on the occasion of Reg’s AIDS death. One by one each friend confides to the put-upon Guy about an extracurricular fling with the now-deceased man, usually panicked over the possibility of HIV exposure. Even Eric (Sam Trammell), the requisite young hunk and newcomer to the group, has unwittingly slept with the man that he mistakenly knew by another name.
By the third and final scene, two more characters will have fallen to AIDS, leaving the others to carry on (in more ways than one, and in full frontal nudity). Perhaps Elyot’s trying to say something about surviving a plague, or tolls taken or some such. He doesn’t succeed: “My Night With Reg” merely comes off as a new “Boys in the Band,” a deadly virus added to the arsenal of double entendres and campy insults.
The cast deserves better than either Elyot or Hofsiss provides, with Caulfield fine as the aging pretty boy (though the queeny mannerisms seem forced), and Bagden and Hibbert unflustered even as most of the jokes and moments of intended poignancy fall short of their marks. Cale and Siravo, as a boring milquetoast and his loutish working-class boyfriend, are more annoying than is necessary, while Trammell (who recently made an impressive Off Broadway bow in the far superior “Dealer’s Choice”) all but steals the three scenes as the plain-spoken, not so naive beauty (even under most undignified circumstances).
Kevin Price’s set of Guy’s London flat is modest but tasteful, a good thing even if it’s not in keeping with the rest of the play.