* Written by Chuck Ranberg * Directed by Matthew Lombardo * Starring Jim J. Bullock and David Drake * 47th Street Theatre, New York City (open run)

Seven guys sharing a house on Fire Island for the summer -- it’s a setup that has spun off an entire subgenre of gay plays and novels complete with its own conventions and cliches. There will be a Whitman’s sampler of types including the New Kid, the House Mother, the Aging Queen, the New Age Airhead, the Neurotic Chub, and the Stud who naturally gets the Twink whom everyone lusts for. There will be heavy drinking, drugging, cruising, catfights, many changes of outfits, and jokes about Calvin Klein. Call it “Boys in the Band on the Beach.”

*End of the World Party* comes with a higher pedigree than usual, since it was written by Chuck Ranberg, a longtime TV writer who has won five Emmy Awards for his work on *Frasier*. Steering straight into every single cliche that comes with the territory, Ranberg perfectly balances calculated laugh-lines and high-speed confrontations with wistful moments of nostalgia or sentiment and eruptions of public-service didacticism. As theater art, it’s no threat to Tom Stoppard. But as sitcom writing, it’s impressively efficient.

Matthew Lombardo’s production is a mixed bag. The staging is crude, and half the performances are soap-opera shallow. The best actors put flesh and bones on stick-figure stereotypes. Jim J. Bullock makes himself at home as hard-drinking Hunter. Admiring a hunk on the beach, he sighs, “I wish God had given me a six-pack.” “He did,” someone else says. “You drank it.” I also admired how much life and dimension Anthony Barrile brought to his insecure, sexually compulsive character, Will. Checking himself in the mirror for the umpteenth time, he muses, “Self-esteem...I wish I deserved it.”

The appeal of shows like *End of the World Party*, which has settled in for a long run in New York, has as much to do with the feeling in the audience as what’s going on onstage. Seasons on Fire Island are as artificial as TV sitcoms anyway. We like them because they allow us to fill in our own memories of joy, grief, or foolishness. And since we’ve all spent years watching TV shows that pore over the trivia of straight people’s lives, it’s fun to watch a gay version for a change.

The Advocate, February 13, 2001

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