Thursday, June 09, 2016

"The Mystery of Love & Sex" fails to reflect 2016 sensibilities

Cast of The Mystery of Love & Sex (Chris Bennion)
The Mystery of Love & Sex
ACT Theatre
Through June 26, 2016

The Mystery of Love & Sex, the new play at ACT Theatre, ought to be buried and never done again anywhere. At least for the Greater Seattle area. Or at least for LGBT folks….

My opinion is not because playwright Bathsheba Doran is a bad writer, because there are some very good jokes in the play, and you can hear that there is a good writer in there somewhere. But the script is presented as if it is something new and different and edgy, and in fact it is dated and appallingly unaware of how retro and unattractive its sentiments are about growing up and coming out Gay, and the supposed daringness of people now in their early twenties to be able to get along across racial lines! “WHAT? How CAN they?”

It’s clear that white, older, liberal Seattle will eat this tepid dish up. The audience loved it. But it’s a pretty fair bet that they don’t know how easy it is for young folks these days to talk about maybe being Gay or Bi or even Trans, and as far as having friends from different racial backgrounds, that’s almost not even something they talk about! Some probably barely notice!
 
And the cast is gorgeously committed, as they should be, to putting it over, and director Allison Narver never lets the energy flag. Emily Chisholm is a favorite of mine and many and has graced ACT plays several times in the recent past. She does everything in her considerable power to make her character come alive.

All the characters could be more believable, if the play were set in… 1990? But it’s clear that it is supposed to be very current, with cell phones, Skype and laptops. The parents, ably played by Ray Abruzzo and Mary Kae Irvin, start off talking about how sitting on their college student’s floor for dinner and eating raw food is “bohemian,” like they’re in Barefoot in the Park!

Chisholm is paired with Lorenzo Roberts who manages a nicely subtle walk through a more interesting character, as two college students who have been besties since age 9. The supposed surprise of their relationship is that she is white and Jewish and he is black and practicing Baptist. Stop the presses! They think their parents will have a hard time if they want to get married, though her parents spend most of the play telling Charlotte (Chisholm) how they’ll love her no matter what.

There is a mystery (I guess that is the part of the title) that lies at the heart of the play. It is part of the big problem I have with the script. The mystery is why Charlotte tried to commit suicide at age 9. That is a crazy year to try to commit suicide! Much less for a 9 year old to know how to slit her wrists, which is apparently what she tried to do.

We don’t hear any long diatribes about how much counseling that plunged her into, or what happened afterward with her family interactions (though apparently her parents thought they were at fault somehow). She’s a single child of doting parents, but there is no long history of just how hard they tried to find out why she attempted this awful thing at such a tender age.

When we learn of the reason (I can’t help spoiling this, because I can’t describe adequately how inappropriate this choice is in 2016 – at least for Seattle kids), it’s that she felt an attraction to another girl, told a different classmate who then told that girl and others, and got made fun of. Would a 9 year old feel terrible? Of course, she’d feel terrible about being made fun of.

But wouldn’t a child of doting parents, verbal, aware, doting parents, be able to confide at least a significant chunk of that to her parents? Apparently in this script, no. Not only that, but I am aware that very young kids in this town, these days, feel very little conflict about feeling attracted to same sex kids. Nor do they feel very much conflict about possibly sharing that with their parents.

The issue might be feeling bullied, rather than attracted. But the way it’s posited here, she feels too much shame to bear it and instantly turns to suicide! Suicide, if you know much about it, often comes after a significant period of feeling like there are no other solutions, and it’s thought about, often for a long period of time. Unless one has a gun – perhaps. So, after being teased one day, not confiding in her parents, feeling so ashamed that life must be over, she tries to slit her wrists.

I hate this whole storyline. It does not help people understand the issue from a socio-psychological informational point of view, it’s just a plot twist!

There will be plenty of people who love this play, but I think a significant amount of SGN readers might agree with me. Do let me know where you stand.

For more information, call 206-292-7676 or go to www.acttheatre.org