The opening night audience for Mates and Lovers was overwhelmingly male - after all, the two-man show is based on Chris Brickell's history of gay male New Zealand. But one doesn't have to be male - or gay - to be moved by the history of struggle.

Written and directed by Ronald Trifero Nelson, this loose, chronological collection of vignettes is mostly upbeat, and told with sly innuendo. Many characters use their gaydar to flirtatiously sidle up to one another - theatre-loving was once a promising sign of a fellow "Oscar" (wink, wink to the audience).

Instead of a narrative thread connecting the episodes, they are bookended by tender, graceful dances of undressing, choreographed by Taiaroa Royal to Samuel Holloway's unobtrusive yet beautiful score.

All sexual encounters mentioned or shown assume only two partners - no character suggests this restriction might be a "breeders"' imposition - but the a cappella song and dance routine, penned by Lachlan McKenzie, is good fun. Choose your seat carefully if you want to see the action when it falls to the ground.

The play is also an unsurprising but useful reminder that the acceptance of fabulousness, and gay ordinariness (symbolised by a Telecom accountant), was hard-fought. A comparison is made: kill men, they give you a medal; love men, you'll be tortured with electric shock treatment.

Shown at speed, the snapshots near the start are all too brief, the characters and contexts not always fleshed out, but most pieces say all they need to in a flash. The indignity of dying with Aids, the love and understanding of many carers, come across in seconds with a few quiet, gentle words.

There's no set to speak of, yet the actors have no difficulty keeping our attention. Trained dancer Paora Taurima is remarkably poised, clear and riveting throughout, while Simon K. Leary does explosive defiance well.

Occasionally naked, they inventively turn their shirts into blouses and turbans as required. At $23, it's warm-hearted, cheeky and hot-headed in turn.

What: Mates and Lovers.

Where: The Basement.

When: To November 27.