Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sex and Violence

Photo/Daniel R. Winters

The play opens with the grainy shot of a house, punctuation for the monologue Clair (Lauren Roth) delivers about the death of her childhood dream. It's not a good start for a show called Sex and Violence: porn isn't exactly known for its plotting. It's not until the second act, which starts with an irreverent nude scene, that Travis Baker even comes close to being entertaining, but by then the characters are so unappealing that it's hard to get it up. At best, the twisted love between Clair and Chris (Tyler Hollinger) comes across as amateurish Shepard, but director Marshall Mays isn't daring enough to pull that off, especially given how high recent NY productions of Blasted and That Pretty Pretty have set the bar for graphic violence and absurdist sex.

The main problem stems from Baker's attempts at foreplay. Things start to pick up steam when Jimmy (Jake Millgard) heads over to the apartment of Molly (Kendall Rileigh), girlfriend of the man, Chris, who has been fucking his wife, Clair. But instead of following through, Baker switches to the bar-room banter of Chris and Clair, indulging in the sort of small talk made only by those who are trying way too hard to be clever: "To living single, seeing double, and sleeping triple!" Chris--a preening asshole--and Clair--an emotionally empty psychopath--might actually speak like this, but they're neither witty or nuanced enough to get away with such banalities. At least Molly has a refreshingly different stance ("I'm pissed, but fuck it, it's not like we're married"), especially when compared to Jimmy's pathetic blubbering. It's a genuine relief when Jimmy finally rapes Molly; at last, the civility has been dropped. And finally, Clair goes from remembering how she and Chris once played with asphyxiation to actually playing some of those greatest hits.

However, roundabout as Baker's foreplay may have been, it's his technique that really needs work. The second act is a thrown-together wet nightmare, which shoots first and then tries to clean up later. Baker knows that he wants a lesbian scene, so Clair goes over to Molly's and--after pushing her around--suddenly decides to go down on her. He also wants to show his edginess, so he has Chris get revenge for Molly--by raping Jimmy on a swing-set. In between, he also wants to show off his pop cultural references, so his characters talk of Alias, Buffy, and Shade the Changing Man, even after one of them is shot in the stomach. As for the direction, Mays finally finds a way to join the two parallel narratives (at one point, Chris "borrows" Molly from her scene in order to have her demonstrate something in his); naturally, there's no logic behind this trick either, save that it looks cool, which to be fair, should have been expected from a play as mindlessly titled as Sex and Violence.

The result of all this mindless action may keep Sex and Violence from being just another bland show, but that doesn't make it any less tasteless. Porn reveals skin; theater's supposed to reveal something more. By refusing to truly let any of his characters get emotionally naked--to actually invest something in their pain--Sex and Violence is just another vanilla strip-tease.


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