New City Stage Company opened its season with a bang with a production of Brad Fraser’s “Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love,” which runs through Oct. 18.
The darkly comic drama, which Fraser penned in the late 1980s, follows the lives of a group of sexually frustrated gay and straight individuals searching for the meaning of love, while living in fear of a serial killer.
Oh, and there’s a psychic prostitute overseeing the events as they unfold.
Despite its controversial subject matter, which includes violence, nudity, explicit dialogue and sex, “Unidentified Human Remains” has won acclaim from both critics and audiences alike. Since its debut 20 years ago, the play has been adapted into a feature film and also performed in a number of countries and languages.
Out cast member Allen Radway said the play’s theme of the increasing disconnection people experience with the outside world is part of the reason it has endured for so long.
“The play itself is kind of this urban parable,” he said. “It’s a cautionary tale about disassociation and these characters who have become very apathetic. There is a desperate search and they’re really seeking meaning in their lives. And love is the most universal theme in finding happiness. With the advent of technology, there’s more difficulty in communicating with people on a one-to-one basis. People are more inclined to send a text than picking up a phone now. It sort of adds to that sense of isolation. There are certain things in the play that date it, but I think thematically, it’s never been more compelling.”
Given his praise for the play, it’s surprising that Radway wasn’t a big fan of “Unidentified Human Remains” when he first read it.
“I had heard of the play,” he said. “It was written in 1988 and produced for us in 1989. By the time I got around to conservatory training, it was one of those pieces that was known to be a little racy and exciting — kind of punk-rock theater. So I was aware of it but I had never read it. When I first read it, I wasn’t even sure of what I thought of it. At first, I didn’t like it that much because I thought it was going to be incredibly difficult to stage.”
The 33-year-old actor said once he started working on the production, he grew to like the play more.
“Once you get to work on it, you get really invested in the problem solving,” Radway said. “So I got kind of turned around on that. The play has been a huge challenge as far as storytelling. That’s always exciting to be a part of, the problem solving. The more meat you have to chew, the better, as is often the case. There are quite a few things about this play in particular that provide that meat for you to chew stylistically. It has a lot of challenges as far as execution as well.”
Radway said he enjoys the role of Bernie in “Unidentified Human Remains,” the troubled friend of the openly gay David.
“His buoyancy is a lot of fun. In that way, he’s been a joy,” Radway said. “It’s not too often you get to be this kind of wrecking ball swinging through scenes. I do like that.”
Radway added that while Bernie’s sexuality is never actually defined in the play, he prefers to perform the role as if the character were gay.
“Personally, I do think he is [gay],” he said. “He’s in absolute mainstream denial in the way he feels for his friend, David. Part of that is product for the times. Certainly, even though it’s not touched on in the play, in his upbringing he’s pretty repressed. I made my decisions about the character and that informs how it’s played. Obviously, the root of most conflict is most interesting to watch for an audience member, so that’s the one a good actor will take. So I chose the more interesting option of the two: that this is a very conflicted character. It gives a lot more to the character’s depth on stage and there’s more payoff for the audience that way.”
“Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love” runs through Oct. 18 at Adrienne Theater’s Mainstage, 2030 Sansom St. For more information, visit www.newcitystage.org or call (215) 563-7500.