Bedtime stories

The gay one-night two-hander, 'Two Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night'
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The Independent Culture
"We were very affectionate behind closed doors, but in public we never allowed PDAs." For those in need of a translation, that's Public Displays of Affection. Anyone interested in the language, manners and mores of the gay American male, Manhattan division, will find plenty of material in James Edwin Parker's play, Two Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night.

The eponymous characters spend a night in and out of bed considering compatibility and trading references to the hedonistic Eighties spent watching Dynasty on the big screen at vintage Village gay bar Uncle Charlie's or dancing the night away at Studio 54 and the Saint, the pinnacle of the New York scene. Earlier this evening, they picked each other up at Chelsea's smart Splash club where guys dance in showers above the bar. Hell, one of these two even drinks Cranberry juice (hold the vodka). He's the one in whose apartment the seduction has taken place. Daryl (Steven Brand) is an attractive graphic artist hungry for love. In the last 10 years, none of his relationships has lasted longer than five days. He's a hopeless idealist. Not only does he want to talk, for God's sake, he listens to the Carpenters singing: "And the love that I've found / Ever since you've been around / Almost put me on the top of the world."

His hunky pick-up, Peter (Richard Laing), is "100 per cent pure American homo". An ex-philosophy major and ex-gogo boy, he's currently doing time as the urban gay man's fantasy - a construction worker. He figures that at 4am, sleep wouldn't be a bad idea, but Daryl's thirst for conversation forces him to join in. "What's with all these questions?" he asks. "If you really have this need to use your mouth there's a lot more we could do beside talk." But talk they do, placing themselves in the American tradition stretching from Edward Albee's Zoo Story to David Mamet's Duck Variations and beyond ie the park-bench play, in which two guys sit around, do nothing and chew the fat.

Julian Woolford's clear, naturalistic production could do with bolder shifts of mood, but amid the laughter there are distinct winces of recognition. Like many of his peers, Parker is weak on subtext but even at its most predictable, this 75-minute guide to the sexual etiquette of one-night stands, irrespective of gender, is peppered with poignant, sly observation. It's light and slight, but, as the boys discover, there are many worse ways of spending a night.

n To 7 Sept, Arts Theatre, London, WC2: 0171-836 3334

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