As fans of the TV series ''thirtysomething," ''My So-Called Life," and ''Once and Again" will remember, Richard Kramer writes with a warm and ready wit, an ability to embrace even his unsympathetic characters, and a particular (and particularly rare) insight into the lives of teenagers and their parents. He brings all these qualities to his first play, ''Theater District." If he also brings a certain weakness for heavy-handed metaphor and expository speechifying, he has nevertheless crafted a story about families that is often both funny and wise.
''Theater District," which gets a solid production from SpeakEasy Stage Company, introduces us to a household in that Manhattan neighborhood: restaurant owner George; his partner, Kenny, a gay-rights lawyer; and Kenny's 15-year-old son, Wesley. We also meet Kenny's ex-wife, Lola, and her second husband, Ben, as well as George's old pal and restaurant sidekick, Mario. And then there's Theo, Wesley's best friend, who has set the plot in motion by coming out at a school assembly.
Wesley's casual mention of this news starts off a day of turmoil in the family, beginning with his father's fretting that he doesn't want his son to suffer as he has, then moving through a dramatic (offstage) bashing of the boys and on to a climactic confrontation between Wesley's most involved parental figures: his mother, yes, but not his father -- instead, it's the nurturing George who's most in tune with Wesley's struggles.
Kramer's themes are timely and touching; the complicated web of relationships, both legal and unnamed, that he sketches here feels real and right, and his portrait of overextended and underinvolved parents rings painfully true. Wes Savick directs all this with a fairly light hand, though some speeches -- especially those delivered directly to the audience to provide background or wax poetic -- would drag any production down, and the video projections he uses are sometimes more irritating than illuminating.
The cast mostly helps. Liam Torres is sometimes too stiff even for the stiff-backed Kenny, and his awkwardness gives Bill Brochtrup's George little to play off in the early scenes. But Brochtrup (familiar to ''NYPD Blue" fans as assistant John Irvin) loosens and warms as he goes, and whenever the engaging Neil A. Casey steps onstage as the sweet, wisecracking Mario, the chemistry turns delightful. Melinda Lopez does the neurotic New York editor-mom to a turn; in the unconvincing role of her husband, who mystifyingly turns from jerk to mensch in a single flowery speech, Barlow Adamson does what he can. Meanwhile, young Edward Tournier as Wesley and Jaime Cepero III as Theo create achingly real, wonderfully nuanced portrayals.
As usual, SpeakEasy provides effective scenery and lighting on a shoestring; Erin Turner's design of the various projections -- from Audrey Hepburn in ''A Nun's Story" to extreme close-ups of a soup can (don't ask; it's got something to do with the etymology of ''restaurant") -- is ingenious.
But what may stay longest in the mind are some of Kramer's clever lines, and his willingness to play with language in the service of feeling.When Kenny cluelessly wonders why Wesley has started asking about being gay ''out of the blue," George corrects him. ''There is no blue, and nothing comes out of it," he says. ''If something comes out of the blue, it's a blue that's always been there."
This modern family didn't come out of the blue, either. But it took a careful eye to reveal its particular shades.