“The hurt gets worse/and the heart gets harder” goes the Warren Zevon tune that informs the title of Grant James Varjas’s entry into the crowded, gaggle-of-gays-sittin’-around-talkin’ canon. But the fact that Zevon is the reference and not, say, Lady Gaga, is the first hint that there’s a tad more soul in this play’s stroll. And it’s quite refreshing to see a gay-themed play that features not only a mostly middle-aged cast, but nary a flash of skin or a well-muscled backside to create a reason for existence.
Set at Christmastime in 2007 and later in the present day in a Lower East Side gay dive bar, Accidentally, Like a Martyr begins with pre-show bar murmur from its inhabitants—smartly ensconced in designer Clifton Chadick’s rectangular portraiture framing. Then we slowly meet its players. Among them are a drunken, goodnatured, aging writer (Chuck Blasius); an embittered, droll, also-aged viper (Keith McDermott); a rebounding newcomer (Cameron Pow) meeting a blind date that holds more in store than it would seem; and—since no playwright-director who also acts could ever pass up the juiciest role in an ensemble—Varjas himself playing a disgraced, cokehead cop who sets the eventual revelation of the play in motion.
The latter dramatics are less effective than the smallish, more observant snippets of depressive bar life, but the overall results are mostly engaging (one late-breaking surprise is so uncynically revealed, it’s hard to believe it exists in a 2011 play). Varjas has assembled a taut ensemble who create believable archetypes, especially McDermott’s weary, grasshopper-sippin’ elder and Brett Douglas’s warm, sassy, over-it bartender. If you never quite stop hearing Mart Crowley’s Boys in the Band haunting each character, Varjas’s brisk production serves nicely as a proper homage.