BWW Reviews: Secret Rose in NoHo Brings Back LA's Longest Running Hit the Entertaining IT'S JUST SEX
Sex in a title is an eye-catching titillation guaranteed to attract an audience. I had never seen It's Just Sex originally, so I thought, "OMG, let's do it - no pun intended - and be done with it". Is it about sex for the sake of sex or what? Hardly. The play is not a parody of the porn industry or about consistently rampant promiscuity. Not that there's isn't sex involved or that the actors are not appealing. It is and they are, but, in the long run , there is much, much more. In fact, you leave the theatre gaining more from it than you expected, going in. It's Just Sex had a 2-year run in LA before it spent a year off-Broadway; now it returns with a brand-spanking new and electric cast to the Secret Rose Theatre for continued fun, games and plenty of food for thought, through October 26.
Jeff Gould's story concerns three couples. When the play opens Phil (John Colella) is cheating on his wife Joan (Reamy Hall) with a prostitute (Claudia Graf) in their home in the middle of the afternoon, when Joan walks in and discovers them. At a regular 'friendly get together' dinner party that night which they are throwing, Joan decides to 'get' Phil and make him suffer by changing their routine and playing a truth game. Lisa (Stephanie Fredricks), a prominent lawyer, is bored in her lifestyle with mousy husband Greg (Andy Hirsch) and Kelly (Betsy Russell) has no qualms but to tell fun-loving, progressive hubbie Carl (Vincent Spano) that she has always had the hots for Phil. What happens after the truth game, when Joan is very drunk, is a full-throttle swing at wife-swapping, which is pleasing to some of the mix, definitely to Joan, but not to Phil, Kelly, or even Lisa for that matter who has been looking for something new and exciting to perk up her life. It's rather an embarrassment and awkward, but the three couples daringly proceed.
Gould makes the happening a main event, as we watch the six tastefully tumble and fumble behind scrims and then proceed to discuss and analyze what they have just done. Greg finds a thrill with Joan, and Carl a pleasant experience with Lisa. Kelly and Phil, on the other hand, who have been previously attracted, at least she to him, know that it is wrong, so do not go all the way. There follows not only an indictment by Joan of what Phil has done behind her back, but also an openly honest revelation of issues which have been plaguing the other couples for a very long time. Jokester Carl seems to have the strongest argument that there is too much stifling of impulses in marriage, and men, who are natural-born sex-lovers, will always be on the lookout while the women love to talk. Cheating involves lying, but out-in-the-open wife-swapping obviously does not. He's for it, yet still adores his wife. His reaction, this other, more important issue is real communicative love: if you truly love your spouse, you can find happiness again, if necessary, through therapy and forgiveness. In the case of Lisa and Greg, where the woman wears the pants and can never be satisfied with her husband's weak yet sincere attempts to make her happy, there is a far deeper problem to face than just talking it out. There is a happy ending in It's Just Sex, but not without an intelligent and very humorous examination and conversation of just how much love and commitment it takes to get there.
Under Rick Shaw's slick direction, the entire cast is glorious. The pacing is just perfect and Hall and Colella, Fredricks and Hirsch, Russell and Spano have terrific chemistry together as friends. Individually they all nail their characters' strengths and weaknesses. No one stands out over anyone else; they are all first-rate and bring Gould's script to super vibrant life.
It is Gould who is really to be lauded most for writing such an enjoyable and smart scenario with fiercely crisp and funny dialogue. I heard or read somewhere that he used hours and hours of tapes of therapy sessions with troubled married couples to help him get a sense of the real issues at hand. Well, what we get is indeed intensely real communication that is copiously entertaining. If couples would only talk to each other and listen openly with a sense of humor...well, it's the ideal.
Go see why It's Just Sex has been all the rage for the last 12 years on both coasts. It's an ideal date.night comedy that will make you laugh and think ...effortlessly.
(photos: Maura McCarthy)