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Not Quite Straight Talking

"The Last Sunday in June"
Directed Trip Cullman
Opened at The Rattlestick Theatre Feb. 9
Now at Century Center for the Performing Arts, 111 East 15th St.
Through July 6
Tues. through Sat. at 8 p.m., matinees on Sat. at 4 p.m., and Sun. at 3 p.m., Sun. evening at 7 p.m.
$60-$65 (Both Sunday shows $40) Call Tele-Charge (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com

In the opening scene of "The Last Sunday in June," Michael (Jonathan F. McClain) is sitting, limp-wristed by the window of his Ikea-styled Christopher St. apartment gazing at the Gay Pride Parade passing by in the street below. Michael shares the apartment with Tom (Peter Smith) his partner of seven years, and the two young men are about to make the big move to the burbs.

Michael wants to go to Pottery Barn to buy lamps. Tom wants to make love. Shortly, the disagreement becomes moot as a series of friends drop in to watch the parade: Joe (David Turner) the young actor who has recently come out; Brad (Arnie Burten) the horny and ironic wiseacre; and Charles (Donald Corren) the older gay man who's fought the good fight only to be defeated by a younger generation that dismisses and disregards him. They are joined briefly by Scott (Matthew Wilkas), a bare-chested Adonis who comes up to get a glass of water.

The first part of "The Last Sunday in June," at the Century Center for the Performing Arts until July 6, is pretty much a typical "gay play." The characters exhibit all the less desirable qualities we have come to associate with gayness: narcissism, unrestrained libido, bitchiness, superficiality.

In just a few minutes they drop more names - from Diana Ross to Olivia de Haviland, from Adolf Hitler to M.C. Escher and just about everyone involved in the O.J. Simpson case - to fill at least three late night TV shows. Indeed most of the conversation is a series of elaborate set-ups for the final punch line, so reminiscent of TV sitcoms that much of the play runs like a gay "Seinfeld."

Playwright Jonathan Tolins, best known for his speculations on genetic engineering in "Twilight of the Gods," seems to believe he can create all the stereotypes he wants as long as he openly acknowledges them by having characters comment how much their lives are like a typical gay play. And the actors gleefully (and often successfully) jump into their roles.

Then their light and edgy banter is interrupted when James (Mark Setlock) a failed novelist and disgruntled cruiser comes over and tries to defend his decision to marry his longtime friend, Susan (Susan Pourfar) so he can escape from the gay life.

The audience now gets a peek at the dirty underside of gay lifestyle - the infidelity, the rejections, the transience. But when Susan actually comes on the scene, it's hard to understand why Tolins has given his play this odd twist, or why she has made the odd decision to marry a gay man - unless she couldn't find anyone else who could stand her whining or the playwright couldn't bare putting difficult truths in the mouth of a gay man.

"The Last Sunday in June" is masterfully directed by Trip Cullman. Takeshi Kata contributes a picture perfect set. And the actors are uniformly brilliant, creating totally believable characters who are moving and funny at the same time.

But "The Last Sunday in June" is mostly a play by gay people for gay people. The well-established character types grow stale after a while, unless you're someone who enjoys endlessly staring at himself. And Tolins' self-conscious recognition of his device doesn't quite get him off the hook.

Nevertheless, there seem to be enough people who enjoy gay-gazing to make the play quite popular - this and the very commendable ability of Cullman and his cast to squeeze out in the best way possible every drop of comedy Tolins has provided. [Simmons]


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