Say You Love Satan by Shipping Dock Theatre | Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m., through July 29 | Visual Studies Workshop, 31 Prince Street, 232-2250, www.shippingdocktheatre.org | $18-$22.
Everyone loves a bad boy. This is scientific fact, proven throughout history by pioneering researchers like Marc Antony and Don Juan, up through modern examples like Colin Farrell and Tommy Lee. And nobody's badder than the Big D, Lucifer Morningstar himself, a.k.a. Satan. If dating a rocker like Tommy Lee is quite the party --- and it is, if the tabs and sex tapes are to be believed --- then hooking up with the devil must be a wild ride indeed. That's the premise behind Say You Love Satan, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's romantic comedy currently receiving a hellishly entertaining staging by Shipping Dock Theatre.
Andrew is a gay grad student living in Baltimore. He's looking forward to spending a Saturday night with the man of his dreams, Fyodor Dostoevsky, whoseBrothers Karamazov he's reading while waiting to do the fluff 'n' fold at the Laundromat. His cute gal pal, Bernadette, harasses him via cellphone, desperate to get Andrew back on the scene following his brutal dumping by self-absorbed actor Chad.
Andrew's not interested in dating --- that is, until a mysterious stranger named Jack walks in, whips off his shirt, and strikes up a conversation about The Possessed. Before Andrew can say no, Jack whisks him away for a night of dancing and intellectual debate. The perpetually jaded Andrew is swept off his feet, brought down to earth only when Jack confesses that his real name is Abadon, and his dad just happens to be a horny fellow named Satan.
Should Andrew continue dating a guy who he knows is totally wrong for him --- shacking up with Jack makes him a pretty good candidate for eternal damnation, after all --- but with whom he has so much fun? Or should he pick the figurative angel on his other shoulder, Jerrod, the cute, smart, exceedingly sweet med student whom Andrew continually rebuffs because he's just so disgustingly perfect?
Thus begins the central conflict of the play, which the first act expertly mines for some very realistic subtext and great comic mileage. Unfortunately, the second act is kind of screwed. In addition to a puzzling revelation about Jack, what was fun and campy in the first half inevitably has to be taken seriously by the end. While theological interesting, the literal mechanics of how to save someone's soul from the source of all evil can't help but come off a little goofy.
But overall, Aguirre-Sacasa delivers a witty, breezy script, and the Shipping Dock crew gives the devil his due. The night I saw Satan, leads Sammy Urzetta (Andrew) and Brad Holzer (Jack) took a few scenes to relax and fully inhabit their characters. But once there, Urzetta was impressive with his natural embodiment of the insecurities Andrew must have to leave him so susceptible to temptation. And Holzer --- practically the spitting image of lothario Brian Kinney from the American version of gay soap Queer as Folk --- plays Jack with terrific restraint, alternating between seductive, playful, and ultimately a little menacing. The lone female cast member, Katherine Mueller, does every fag hag proud as Bernadette.
Finally, a plea: The audience was shamefully small on the Saturday performance I attended. Say You Love Satan is perfect summer stage, loaded with witty banter, pop culture references, an engaging plot and characters, and even some fine naked male torsos on display. These actors work their butts off, so get yours in the seats. As for me, I'm going to spend more time at the Laundromat.