At one particularly apt point in the new Grant James Varjas play, “Accidentally, Like a Martyr,” a character looks over at the few other people seated at an East Village bar and asks the “Eleanor Rigby” question, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”
It’s Christmas season and while many other people have friends and family to visit with, the men in the play have nowhere else to go but this slightly rundown New York bar (modeled on The Boiler Room, which is only a few blocks from the Paradise Factory Theatre, where the play is running through Jan. 8).
Varjas’s tightly written and well-acted character study is about a group of gay men but sexuality is secondary to their feeling that life has passed them by.
The men once came to the bar looking for erotic connections, but they have become real barflies — i.e. borderline alcoholics — who come for the cheap drinks during happy hour and are long gone by the time the younger, hornier patrons show up.
The play is about a changing social scene in Manhattan where young gay men are tired of being ghetto-ized in dreary “historic” bars filled with older men waxing nostalgic about earlier eras (what novelist Brad Gooch called “The Golden Age of Promiscuity” — the years between the Stonewall riot in 1969 and the emergence of AIDS in the early 1980s).
The bar has been losing customers to a new place down the street where young straights and gays can mingle in a much more fashionable space.
And, of course, much of the real sexual action has moved out of the bars entirely and onto the Internet where faster and cheaper hook-ups are readily available without any liquor-fueled mating rituals.
“Accidentally, Like a Martyr” takes shape slowly but the characters are engagingly irritable before we get to know them, and then very moving after their hidden agendas are revealed.
Younger guys stumble in, but they are usually in the bar for brief, non-social purposes. The playwright/director gives a very vivid performance as a strung-out drug addict who owes money to nearly everyone in his life and who causes the arrival of a very scary enforcer demanding to be taken to an ATM for immediate payment.
Clifton Chadick created the quite authentic set — the small audience is seated on the other side of the mirror behind the bar, where we get a perfect view of all the action, and can study the tiniest inflections of the excellent seven-actor ensemble consisting of Varjas, Keith McDermott, Kevin Boseman, Brett Douglas, Ken Forman, Cameron Pow and Chuck Blasius.