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BWW Reviews: THE QUALMS Plays Like Sex in Clybourne Park


That strange rush of déjà vu one might experience while watching playwright Bruce Norris' latest Pam MacKinnon-directed offering is intensified by having Jeremy Shamos (excellent, as always) pretty much playing the same character he did in the second act of the author's Pulitzer-winner, Clybourne Park.

Donna Lynne Champlin and Jeremy Shamos (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Sex is the issue in The Qualms, not race, but once again Shamos is cast as a well-meaning, seemingly nice guy who turns passive-aggressive in an uncomfortable situation and aggressive-aggressive when his words dig himself into a hole.

Shamos is Chris to Sarah Goldberg's Kristy; a married couple trying out a swingers' night for the first time at the home of a couple they met in Cabo, stoner dude Gary (John Procaccino) and his kittenish, air-headed wife, Teri (Kate Arrington).

They're soon joined by the gregarious Deb (Donna Lynne Champlin) and her flamboyant new lover Ken (Andy Lucien) and strong intimidatrix Regine (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and her straight-shooting military vet husband Roger (Noah Emmerich).

This is a group that meets monthly and bit of expository dialogue clues the audience in on the ground rules. Everyone's welcome to drinks and snacks in the living room but there's a strict time limit for couples and threesomes seeking privacy in the bedroom. While carefree fun is the aim, they're serious about respecting personal boundaries and the word "no."

Andy Lucien, Kate Arrington and
John Procaccino (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Though Kristy is a bit shy at first, she soon relishes her position as the attractive newbie that everyone wants to hook up with. Chris is another matter, though. His nervous repetition that the evening is not what he expected it to be and the revealing of matters between him and Kristy that may have led to their attendance become annoyances to the other guests. Regine and Deb each try to help him relax by offering sexual attention but that only increases his discomfort.

As in Clybourne Park, Shamos' character gets worked up into a lather defending his feelings of self-righteousness, but the stakes aren't very high this time, as Chris' claim of moral superiority over his polyamorous hosts carries little weight in a century where comparatively few Americans would object to consenting adults doing what they like in the privacy of their homes.

The real dramatic sparks are provided by Champlin who, as the large-sized good time gal acing comic zingers for most of the night, delivers a furious defense against a slight at her physical attractiveness. The force with which she demands respect while fighting freshly re-opened emotional wounds is thrilling and heart-grabbing.

Norris' dialogue is amusing and entertaining and MacKinnon's tight ensemble keeps the ninety-minute piece slickly paced but The Qualms, though touching at times, lacks the electric crackle of his past work.

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