Two disclaimers: this is not a new version of the Richard Rodgers 1962 musical, No Strings, and; this reviewer confesses to having had pre-curtain anxiety. As in a disinclination to see a play about three gay men struggling with sexual entitlement (i.e., sleeping around a lot) because such concerns strike him as hopelessly adolescent and irritating.
It is all the more a relief, then, to report that Manuel Igrejas's No Strings Attached beats the hell out of the musical and goes nowhere near the juvenile. It is in fact a strong and potently realistic drama about the classic agony of what is love in the relationship, and who's got the love and who's letting it go. Monty and Luis are gay, wild card Stefan is gay, and the extraordinary thing is that the gay is meaningless. The conflict is the duplicity/temptation/devotion mess just about everybody stirs up in their committed relationships, the imp of the perverse of risking everything when, for each partner, something is not quite right. What is really a knock-out here is that Igrejas makes this new, an achievement likely owing to his creation of characters who live and breathe.
Casey Burden and Afrim Gjonbalaj serve the play beautifully but, as we all know, if it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage. A bit less successful is Kevin Pérez's Stefan, which does the pouty well but requires more of the defiant presence of those boys who are simultaneously vacuous and scary in their confidence. Director Robert Teague, not incidentally, negotiates the there-and-not-there element of the fourth wall with ease and grace. There are minor quibbles: it seems unlikely that a Colombian man as culturally aware as Luis would not have heard of Cézanne, and Monty's career, even in the pointless world of corporate, is a little fantastic - cushy benefits and wondrous security for extolling the limited advantages of styrofoam? You will also kind of yearn for a more slick, if still spare, production. But this latter drawback only reinforces that this is solid theater, peopled by people, sometimes pained, sometimes funny, and never fully certain as to what foot should go where next.
Performances of No Strings Attached continue through August 16. For more information, go to www.nostringsattachedtheplay.com
Through August 16 at the Stage Left Theater.