Robert's Rules of Ardor, Great Beast Theater, at Heartland Studio Theater. Robert Patrick, gay prankster playwright, deserves the occasional retrospective. Spanning four decades, this bill moves back in time, reveling in his wordplay and flamboyant self-caricature. Fortunately, Patrick's comedies mirror their times as well as his obsessions.
The most recent offering, the doggedly earthy Evan on Earth, depicts a May-December liaison in which the younger man has AIDS and the elder (Patrick's surrogate) is the object of the boy's anger. Michelle Power's staging reveals how an abusive relationship can even the odds between lovers mismatched in age. In the popular Pouf Positive, a brittle queen with AIDS (an enervated Charles Christensen) talks on the phone with his ex-lover, marinating in exquisite self-pity and bons mots. Director Brian Bennett mingles the stiff upper quips with gallows humor to deliver a stylish survivor.
Spoofing 70s television, Sitcom is a farce complete with erratic laugh track that begins in infidelity and ends with a menage a trois. Though Michael Martin's sluggish staging prolongs the overwritten silliness, Ed Jones ("Honey, I'm homo!") has fun undermining the cloying domesticity of the title target. Fog returns us to the 60s. Two sex seekers shrouded by fog in Central Park indulge in artful deception: one pretends to be less attractive than he is, the other more, and they meet in the middle. The evening ends where Patrick began: curiously, this furtive, tentative depiction of gay ardor is more romantic and mysterious than anything he wrote later.