Scripter-helmer Scott Edward Smith guides an uneven seven-member ensemble through an adaptation of Ethan Mordden’s Gotham “Buddies” stories. Mordden believed that gay men must surround themselves with a “family” of gay friends to live a stable life, but Smith fails to demonstrate the dramatic relevance of this theme beyond the ever-present need these men have to copulate or talk about it.
The action flows back and forth between the high-rise East 53rd Street abodes of best friends Bud (Hutchins Foster) and Dennis (Mark Davis), with occasional forays to Dennis’ Fire Island retreat. Serving as Mordden’s alter ego, Bud militantly affirms that “gay is a host of techniques to be acquired.” The principal acquisition must be an environment of like-minded folk in which a gay man can be accepted for what he is without qualifications. Thoroughly in tune with Bud’s edict are ravenously virile pals Carlo (Jon Woodward) and Big Steve (T.L. Kolman) and the group’s nubile young boy toys, thoroughly needy and dependent Little Kiwi (David Clark Smith) and Cosgrove (Ronnie Alvarez).
Foster’s Bud exudes an amiable balance of congeniality and cynicism, serving as both narrator and social arbitrator as the group navigates the post-Stonewall gay world of the ’70s, the HIV devastation of the ’80s and the realization of their own mortality as they age in the ’90s. These guys appear to be erudite and worldly, but the only topic worthy of their extended attention is sex.
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During the first act, Bud and Dennis luxuriate over the nude sleeping form of Dennis’ latest coital coup, heavily muscled Ray (Daniel Kirsner), while they debate Ray’s claim that he is actually straight. Later, while taking in the sun at Fire Island, the quartet of Bud, Dennis, Carlo and Big Steve discuss the many aspects and merits of S&M as if it were a postgraduate thesis. As the scenes progress, Smith’s thematic throughline flows right over any deep issues that might inhabit their lives, including the eventual HIV-related death of Big Steve.
A good deal of the second act is spent on the disposition of Cosgrove, a comely but intellectually challenged teen who, over time, is befriended and bedded by Little Kiwi, Dennis and Carlo before ending up as Bud’s live-in houseboy. Aside from briefly alluding to the concept known as the “hunk/host relationship,” Smith leaves out whatever sections of Mordden’s work that might reinforce why so much attention is spent on this lad.
Foster and Davis have a relaxed rapport as Bud and Dennis. Woodward and Kolman live up to their much-discussed billing as macho stalwarts within the Bud-Dennis community. Smith is actually endearing as the soft-spoken but monumentally self-serving Little Kiwi.
Not faring as well is Alvarez’s halting portrayal of Cosgrove; thesp speaks his lines as if recently memorized. Though brief, Kirsner’s woefully undernourished portrayal of Ray is barely audible.
Smith’s adaptation of Mordden’s work reveals some intriguing, even memorable personalities that are not fully realized. If “Buddies” is to move beyond this staging, Smith needs to instill more content beyond the sexual yearnings of the inhabitants.
The rapid scene- and time-shifting nature of this work is facilitated greatly by the evocative modular sets of Kurt Boetcher and the mood-enhancing lights of Timothy Swiss.