Quoted lyrics from musical-theater classics fly thick and fast in “Steve,’’ a midlife-crisis comedy that asks us to consider what sustains a relationship after the erotic fire starts to wane and/or the eye starts to wander.
Now at Zeitgeist Stage Company under the direction of David J. Miller, “Steve’’ rides a sitcom-bright surface of snappy repartee that reflects the TV acting background of Mark Gerrard, for whom this was the first play when it premiered off-Broadway a few years ago. The one-act “Steve’’ abounds in amusingly biting throwaway lines; there are jabs at Amy Adams, Kate Capshaw, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kristin Chenoweth, among others.
But periodically “Steve’’ probes beneath that snarky surface and touches genuine emotion — real pain, real love – that brings considerable poignancy to its portrait of two longtime gay male couples and their lesbian friend.
Many of the aforementioned musical-theater references in “Steve’’ are to the work of another guy named Steve, surname Sondheim. When a former Broadway dancer turned stay-at-home dad named Steven (an intense Victor Shopov) shows up for his birthday dinner, his boyfriend Stephen (Alex Jacobs), a lawyer, hails his arrival with: “Here he is, boys! Here he is, world!’’ From that point on, the Sondheim allusions never really let up, but they’re clever and strategic enough, in terms of serving the admittedly slight story, that they don’t get on one’s nerves, at least not mine.
Also at the dinner is Carrie (a wry Jenny Reagan), who is mourning the end of a relationship while waging a battle against cancer. Carrie has been chronicling that battle in a blog that has attracted interest from Hollywood. Her illness is forcing her friends not just to contemplate life without her presence, but also to confront their own mortality.
As Steven and Stephen cope with the spark-squelching demands of raising an 8-year-old son together, they are enduring a stretch in the romantic doldrums. They are good friends with another couple, Brian (Mike Nilsson), a banker, and Matt (a high-energy Mikey DiLoreto), who’s in real estate. Brian and Matt are involved in a menage a trois with a personal trainer named (wait for it) Steve. The young waiter at the restaurant, well played by Adam Boisselle, is named Esteban, which translates into English as . . .
The play’s abundance of Steves sounds, and is, gimmicky, but it has the effect, among other things, of underscoring the smallness of the social world Gerrard’s characters are operating in, whether in Manhattan or on Fire Island.
Despite the festive occasion, birthday boy Steven is in a very bad mood. When he ferociously disputes Stephen about the film version of “Evita,’’ there seems to be a hidden reason for his eruption. Eventually, it emerges that Steven has just discovered that Brian and Stephen have been sexting each other. Steven vehemently blames Stephen for what he calls the “complete and total annihilation of what was once but will never be again our picture-perfect storybook fairy tale existence.’’
Maybe, maybe not. A strength of “Steve’’ is that as it tracks the ripple effects of Steven’s discovery on both couples, the play suggests that perhaps there ought to be room in that storybook for an imperfect existence.
Play by Mark Gerrard. Directed by David J. Miller. Presented by Zeitgeist Stage Company. At Plaza Black Box Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, through March 24. Tickets $30, 617-933-8600, www.zeitgeiststage.comDon Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@GlobeAucoin.