"How does one say thank you for 40 years of love?" asks Harry Mitchell, a character from David Steven''s play The Sum of Us. It is a question any one of us might ask if we are fortunate enough to be the recipient of such a love. How does one--and is it even necessary?

The Sum of Us, a bittersweet comedy currently in production at the Unicorn Theatre, is about love in its most unconditional incarnation--that of Harry, the father (Robert Colter), for Jeff, the son (Dustin Leonard). Their relationship is deep and abiding and utterly accepting. So much so in fact, that, in one hilarious scene, a would-be lover is frightened off by Harry''s total acceptance, even encouragement of his son''s homosexuality.

There are no big, extravagant, dramatic moments in this story, so relationships are what must carry the show. Therein lies the strength of this fine production. The characters are real. We believe them, we empathize with them in their struggles, and we hope for them in their dreams.

The play opens with father and son sitting down to dinner in their home in Footscray, an industrial suburb of Melbourne, Australia. It is obvious from the give and take of their banter that these are the same conversations they have had time and again. It is equally obvious that they thoroughly enjoy each other despite their quirks and foibles. Colter and Leonard resemble each other just enough to be believable as father and son, and the warm and affectionate energy they bring to their scenes together complete the familial picture.

Both actors do a fine job. Colter is most enjoyable in the moments where a somewhat bemused Harry goes to hilarious lengths to understand his son''s sexuality. Leonard is especially impressive as the kind-hearted Jeff. This is not some sitcom fantasy of a gay character. This is a man who happens to be gay. He is neither fey nor butch, but rather shy, awkward and, as the character himself confesses, a bit ordinary. Some of the most touching scenes in the show are between Jeff and Greg (Brendan Godfrey), both of whom capture the feet-shuffling, eyes-on-the-ground awkwardness of a first date so beautifully. Lucinda Boone also gives a nice performance as Joyce, Harry''s love interest.

The script itself is quite good and the transitions between humor and pathos are smooth and without too much sentimentality. The lives of these sensitive working class men are never trivialized. Monologues addressed to the audience are interjected into the action, never detract from the flow of the story. We are in on all the secrets, and enjoy our complicity with the characters.

In "sum," this is one of the Unicorn''s finer efforts.

The Sum of Us continues through April 9 at the Hoffman Playhouse. 649-0259.

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