The cast of End of the World Party(Photo: David Morgan)
The cast of End of the World Party
(Photo: David Morgan)
It's probably the wood boardwalk-type steps down the center aisle of the 47th Street Theater that do it, or the sound of the ocean waves, or the modern beach house set on the stage. Whatever; Chuck Ranberg's new dramedy of weekend life on Fire Island circa the end of the millennium has a lot going for it even before it even begins.

End of the World Party is about a vanishing species of gay men. But while it's true that HIV, sex, ecstasy, and disco music inform the plot, this Party doesn't amount to much more than another story about a bunch of cute guys dying to take their shirts off. You'll not find much politically correct humor here, but you will find lots of tongue-in-cheek jokes and a few tears, the effect of which is to create warm feelings of nostalgia. End of the World Party is rather like sipping a good bowl of white bean and escarole soup from the local Fairway while flipping through HX magazine and watching reruns of The Robin Byrd Show. Here, nothing can hurt you, and all is right with the world.

Beginning yet another summer of gay camaraderie, five men who have shared the same beach house for many years and one newcomer gather for the first weekend of the season in the last year of the millennium. Old friends Hunter (Jim J. Bullock) and Roger (Christopher Durham) arrive after a long, hard winter to unwind amongst the stud muffins of the Pines. Soon, a new housemate arrives: Phil is a cute, young pup fresh off the plane from Minnesota and bursting at the gay seams. In short order, we are introduced to the rest of the housemates. There's the sexually adventurous Will (Anthony Rarriel); Travis (David Drake), a Southern bluebell in mourning for his lover, recently lost to AIDS; and Nick (Russell Scott Lewis), a gay Superman if there ever was one, whose appetite for drugs and sex seems unmatched on the island. Over the course of two hours plus intermission, these queens express love, jealousy, and anger towards each other, finding plenty of opportunity to sob into their gin martinis before Labor Day heralds the end of the season.

Playwright Ranberg comes straight (or, rather, gaily forward) from television, having been one of the writers and producers of Frasier (he has five Emmys, his bio proclaims). What has he learned in La La Land, and does it translate into good theater? Well, the play contains a fistful of witty one-liners, and the action rolls along at a good clip. "Every minute I'm standing here, my biological clock is ticking," laments the aging yet drop-dead-handsome Roger. Hunter, who thinks life has passed him by and would rather make love to a bottle of booze, says of his abs: "Why didn't God give me a six pack?" Roger's response: "He did, but you drank it."

Ranberg sprinkles his play with references everything from Kitty Carlisle Hart to Miss Saigon to Bed, Bath and Beyond. Many of the plot situations are contrived; it goes without saying that the new flame of hunk #1 (Nick), a gorgeous twinkie Chip (Adam Simmons), is going to get his heart broken and go running to hunk #2 (Roger). You just know that Travis is going to come screaming out of his sullen shell by play's end, and that Hunter will eventually face up to his excessive drinking. Haven't we heard this all before? And do we really need to hear it all again from a new set of boys in tank tops?

Fortunately, the cast is uniformly good. David Drake has some tender moments as Travis, but the best acting of the evening comes from Russell Scott Lewis as heartbreaker Nick. This complicated man-child is sexy and strong, weak and perplexed, drugged and truthful at the same time, and Lewis does a great job bringing him to life.

Matthew Lombardo's direction is crisp and sunny. Raymond Dragon's costumes give the cast a full spectrum of colors and form fitting designs. There is no full nudity here, just a lot of pecs on parade, all of which occasionally gets in the way of the dialogue. End of the World Party is a bounty for the eyes, even if you feel like you've seen and heard most of it before.