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At Skylight Theatre, a gay couple's quest for their 'Forever House'

At Skylight Theatre, a gay couple's quest for their 'Forever House'
James Liebman as Ben, left, and Michael Rubenstone as Jack in "Forever House" at the Skylight Theatre in L.A. (Ed Krieger)

Tony Abatemarco's "Forever House," now in its world premiere at the Skylight Theatre in L.A., offers plenty of charm, vividly comic characters and gut-busting one-liners.

That said, a few of the plot lines don't quite pay off, and the play culminates in diatribe that feels heartfelt but seems more like a hastily contrived exit device than an organic resolution.

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If the play is a bit of a fixer, its blemishes are mostly cosmetic -- nothing that couldn't be addressed in a lightly spackled rewrite. Abatemarco, a theater veteran whose credits include acting, directing and writing, finds the humor -- and the pain -- in a young couple's messy, sometimes surreal, struggle to commit for the long-term.

The young couple happens to be gay: Technology executive Jack (Michael Rubenstone) and dedicated teacher Ben (James Liebman) have just purchased a craftsman -- Ben's childhood home -- just outside Los Angeles. The men intend to raise a family in their "forever house," but Ben is having a hard time adjusting to suburbia, while perkily homophobic neighbor Gloria (Elyse Mirto) is having trouble adjusting to him. Worse, spooky manifestations in the basement make Ben want to run for the Hollywood hills.

The play's parade of characters include the guys' drunken real estate agent, Bill (Joel Swetow); Ben's bombastic mother, Evelyn (hilarious Dale Raoul); and a surprisingly tolerant evangelical couple who lives nearby (Swetow and Mirto, who showcase the full range of their considerable abilities in dual roles).

Rubenstone makes the most of his neurotically scattershot character, but Liebman seems initially strained, perhaps because he's the sole straight man among these larger-than-life eccentrics.

In a dynamically paced staging, director Elizabeth Swain keeps the broad comedy firmly grounded in reality. The spectacularly well-realized design elements -- John Iacovelli's sets, Jeff McLaughlin's lighting, Peter Bayne's sound, Terri A. Lewis' costumes and Nicholas Santiago's video design -- all contribute to the ideal milieu for this almost move-in ready "House."

"Forever House," Skylight Theatre Complex, 1816 ½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m. Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 28. $30-$34. (213) 761-7061. skylighttix.com. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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