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Theater Review: NCC ‘Jeffrey’ has humor and heart

“Jeffrey,” through June 26, Northampton Community College Summer Theatre, hearkens to the 1980s through 1995 when AIDS was devastating the gay community.

The play, written by Paul Rudnick (playwright, “I Hate Hamlet”; screenwriter, “Sister Act,” “Addams Family Values”), opens as male couples wearing socks and underwear are ready to have sex, but stop because of concerns about AIDS.

Jeffrey (Danny Rowe) addresses the audience, telling them he used to be sexually active, but has given up sex. He says that all human beings are obsessed with sex. That may or may not be true in the real world, but it certainly is in this play.

Jeffrey’s vow of celibacy is difficult, especially after he meets Steve (David Lippincott) at the gym. He cannot avoid Steve. He encounters him during his catering work. Jeffrey’s friends Sterling (Jarrod Yuskauskas) and Darius (Michael Mottram) try to set them up as a couple.

Vignettes depict Jeffrey’s struggles, some realistic and some based in fantasy. A game show has a host asking him questions that reflect his self-doubt. A “Hoedown for AIDS” benefit gives a glimpse of what must have been at the time the crazy social world of New York City.

Jeffrey is the prototypical waiter-unemployed actor. In one scene, he unsuccessfully auditions for a television role. In the first audition granted to him in a year, he is given a part consisting of two lines as the “gay neighbor.”

A televangelist (Madeline Gambon) answers Jeffrey’s questions and gives inane responses to other audience questions. Jeffrey makes an unsuccessful visit to a club where men self-pleasure themselves, in another attempt to escape his feelings.

Jeffrey encounters a priest in church who tries to hook up with him. In a more philosophical vein, the priest attempts to give him insights into life and the workings of God. There is also a very moving scene as Jeffrey’s friends deal with death from AIDS.

“Jeffrey” is a surprisingly old-fashioned love story at heart, but with a twist because of its subject matter. Beginning in a humorous tone, the nearly two-hour play becomes more serious as it progresses.

The play, which debuted Dec. 31, 1992, to Feb. 14, 1993, in New York City, is very much a product of its time. Younger theater-goers may not recall how prevalent the AIDS scare was, especially since COVID has replaced it in today’s world.

The play is suggested for mature audiences, but what might have seemed shocking onstage in the 1990s is probably standard fare on any number of contemporary TV streaming series.

The play’s many gay caricatures, which were probably meant as a salute to gay pride and identity, are a bit dated now. There is one scene of a gay pride parade that shows a newscaster speaking condescendingly to many of the flamboyant characters. Fortunately, that is something that would be unlikely to happen nowadays, at least in New York City.

The acting overcomes anything in the play that limits it to a specific place or time. Rowe and Lippincott are perfectly natural as they cautiously approach each other. Yuskauskas and Mottram show depths revealing that their over-the-top flouncing hides an inner fear.

Gambon and the three other cast members (Nathan Angelo, Jadon Lopez, Harrison Sakai) deftly play a number of different parts.

The set in the black box theater has three sections with recognizable silhouettes of New York City behind them, although most of the scenes use the entire stage.

Director Bill Mutimer presents “Jeffrey” as a fast-paced work with humor and heart.

The June 19 matinee performance was seen for this theater review.

“Jeffrey” continues 7:30 p.m. June 23 - 25; 2 p.m. June 26, Norman Roberts Lab Theatre, Northampton Community College, 3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem, www.northampton.edu; 484-484-3412

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO From left: Danny Rowe (Jeffrey), David Lippincott (Steve), Jarrod Yuskauskas (Sterling), Michael Mottram (Darius), “Jeffrey,” Northampton Community College Summer Theatre.