BWW Reviews: INTIMACY Is Too Dull To Be Shocking
Back in the 1920s, most creators of Broadway musicals weren't all that interested in fully-motivated dramatics. Bookwriters were often assigned to concoct stories and dialogue utilizing pre-written songs and audiences would sit through forgettable plot points in order to get to the attractive melodies that carried no serious weight because they weren't presented in the context of expressing the emotions of well-developed characters.
Replace "attractive melodies" with "fully-nude and partially-nude simulated sex scenes" and you have a pretty good sense of the two most recent plays by Thomas Bradshaw, both premiering Off-Broadway in Scott Elliot-directed productions by The New Group.
A little over two years ago, Bradshaw made his above 14th Street debut with Burning, which featured a wide assortment of sex scenes loosely connected by interwoven stories of an incestuous skinhead and his wheelchair-bound sister, an underage sex slave and a pedophilia touring southeast Asia. His new one, Intimacy, involves three suburban families and is much more sex-positive in tone, eventually to the point of being ridiculously up-beat.
18-year-old aspiring filmmaker Matthew (Austin Cauldwell) has a bedroom window with a perfect view inside the bedroom of his 18-year-old high school classmate, Janet (Ella Dershowitz), and frequently masturbates after watching her undress. (With the actor using a prosthetic penis, we see him ejaculate quite an impressive amount.) His father, James (Daniel Gerroll), a widower, objects to Janet's alluring taste in clothing and forbids his son to associate with her, though he secretly lusts for the teen himself and prays for the power to resist her.
An aspiring actress and model, Janet has recently had her first nude magazine photo spread published. While her opened-minded mother, Pat (Laura Esterman), approves of her using her body however she likes, her father, Jerry (Keith Randolph Smith), needs to adjust. For one thing, he's tempted to masturbate to his daughter's pictorial and, after nervously hesitating, imagines the nude Janet encouraging him to go ahead.
Audience members might assume that Jerry isn't Janet's biological dad because of their racial differences, but Bradshaw specifies in the script's character descriptions, "She's bi-racial but looks absolutely white." Later on there's a line that informs us of that fact.
Meanwhile, Matthew has started dating Sarah (Dea Julien), who wishes for them to both remain virgins until prom night, so even though they abstain from penetration, they frequently enjoy frottage; achieving orgasms by rubbing against each other. Not only do we see Matthew ejaculate on Sarah, but she also has him massage his semen into her skin to fight acne. ("I don't have zits on any of the places that you've shot your semen.")
Sarah is Mexican and her bisexual father, Fred (David Anzelo), has been the target of racist remarks by James as he does construction work in his home. The tension between them is eventually resolved and just before the final blackout the gang's all laughing heartily at anti-Semitic jokes.
There's a scene where Fred appears fully erect while masturbating to gay porn and yes, that is Anzelo's fully erect penis.
Aside from the sex, Jerry has a scene where he's seated at a toilet with sound effects of his defecating and another where he vomits in full view of the audience.
Apparently Janet has no problem with Matthew peeping through her window but she draws the line when he posts an Internet video he secretly took of her masturbating. (Several porn-related websites are mentioned and described in the script, to the point where it starts resembling product placement.)
He makes it up to her by proposing to use the video camera and $40,000 his dad gave him to kick-start his filmmaking career by shooting a full-length porn movie starring Janet. They're both inspired by Deep Throat for its realistic storyline and depth. ("Her clit being in the back of her throat is a brilliant plot driving device.") Janet is game but only if James is her co-star and soon everyone is involved. While the audience is shielded from viewing every graphic detail, a video screen shows porn clips of similar acts.
The bland and stilted dialogue of Matthew's fiction is no different from the bland and stilted dialogue of Bradshaw's real life and I'm tempted to think that the playwright's intention was to script a play that would make the audience wish they could fast forward through the plot to just get to the sex scenes.
Only Esterman - a long-time stage standout and an Obie, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle winner - manages to add some degree of naturalism to her character. Coincidentally, she's the only cast member who doesn't reveal any skin or partake in anything especially graphic.
There are those who will tell you that the audience laughter you hear at Thomas Bradshaw's plays is the nervous response of patrons seeing slices of realism they never encounter on stage. Having seen two of his works, I'll counter that it's more likely the amused response of people watching a bad play that tries too hard to be shocking and, in doing so, underestimates the theatergoing public's level of sophistication.