Clifford Streit’s brief play about a homosexual film star is provocative and often clever.

Todd Alan Crain and Jon Fleming in HIM
(© Michael Mallard)
Todd Alan Crain and Jon Fleming
in HIM
(© Michael Mallard)

The 65 minutes of Clifford Streit’s new play,
HIM, now playing at the Soho Playhouse, breeze by pleasingly enough, thanks in large part to Streit’s clever way with a well-timed quip (or bitchy line) and an ample display of well-sculpted male flesh. Unfortunately, both the work’s surprising brevity and Streit’s sometimes slack direction do the piece no favors.

The work — which debuted in December in a slightly different version at the Cherry Lane Studio — opens in the modest New York apartment of Nick Cooper (the impressively sculpted, decidedly earnest Jon Fleming), an actor on the immediate verge of major stardom, and his longtime partner, Matthew (Todd Alan Crain), a screenwriter still struggling with success and the need to distance himself from his wealthy family.

Their romantic breakfast — prepared by Nick — is soon interrupted by the not-so-welcome arrival of Nick’s hard-nosed agent Margo (Lindsay Goranson), who is determined to see her client become a superstar — at the possible expense of the couple’s domestic bliss.

She starts small — making sure Matthew is not photographed with Nick at his film premiere — but soon moves on to more drastic measures. In doing so, she often enlists the help of Nick’s suave publicist — and Matthew’s friend — James (Julian Mercer) to help achieve her goals. Her biggest plan, which she executes with surprising ease, is getting an ambitious and beautiful Latina actress named Rana (Roxi Sorina) to act as Nick’s beard.

Of course, it comes as no surprise to the audience when we learn that Margo’s motives aren’t purely professional — which is made perfectly clear when she calls out Nick’s name while in bed with hunky aspiring actor Troy (James Sautter). And when she finally confesses her desire to Nick, the reaction she gets — and actions he take — are particularly memorable.

Aside from Fleming’s pecs, the production’s strongest asset is Crain, who is utterly believable and thoroughly sympathetic as Matthew, even when he’s at his most caustic. Goranson makes Margo just enough of a monster to be hateful, without completely alienating the audience. And the handsome Mercer (one of three new cast members) is pitch-perfect as the conflicted — and very stylish — James.

Streit’s characters and situations aren’t always fresh, but he knows his milieu, and his subject matter is provocative. With additional work (and a seasoned director at the helm), HIM has the potential to be a play worth another production.

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Closed: March 26, 2012