There’s so much beauty in the United States: Yosemite National Park, The Florida Everglades, Niagara Falls. And of course, The Grand Canyon.
And then there’s our nation’s college kids. Wanna see a dichotomy? Put one in front of the other and let them loose – see who winds up NOT falling apart. Here’s a clue: the Grand Canyon’s been around forever. These kids . . . not so much.
American Sexy (by Trista Baldwin) takes four of our nation’s college kids and sets them on a road trip through Nevada on their way to the holy land – in this case, Vegas. At the moment we come upon them they’ve stopped near a lookout point to take in the majesty that is the Grand Canyon. They, surrounded by beauty, nature, amazing spectacle, serenity and yes - even sacredness, still find the time to be distracted by PDAs of both types (Personal Digital Assistants as well as Public Displays of Affection), drugs of several types, sex of every type and general youthful randomness that is responsible for everyone over 40 dismissing “these kids today” and everyone in Europe referring to the “Ugly Americans”. Is this quartet representative of their generation? Possibly. Sadly, even probably. Are they likable? Sometimes. Sadly – not often enough. Is American Sexy well done? Depends on what you’re looking for in a show. If you’re looking for a show that perfectly captures the irresponsibility of young kids who don’t yet realize there’s a price for their actions, then yes. Then this show is very well done. If you’re looking for a show where four kids go to the Grand Canyon and let the natural beauty give them a moment of clarity that changes their aimless, hedonistic lives – you’re looking for another play.
You’ll never meet a prettier gal than Lexi (Satomi Blair). How do I know? Because she knows it. And she lets everyone know it. Truth is, she’s just a regular gal, but she’s so dipped in raw, blatant sexuality that it dictates every move she makes. She eats Doritos like she’s having sex. She drinks Mountain Dew like she’s having sex. She talks about her body constantly, never failing to mention that her stomach hurts or that she has to pee. Everything she says is a double entendre, even if she’s talking about squirting mustard on a hot dog or pitching a tent. Under Mia Walker’s direction, Lexi paces like a caged animal, arching her back, twirling her hair, leaning out into the audience, almost ready to lick them it seems, using every part of her body to point out what a heck of a body it is. She’s in your face. She’s unavoidable. She’s provocative, and she’ll provoke you into behaving like her to get a rise out of you ( Like the moment she tries to convince her friends to have sex: “Do her right here. I’d watch.”). As Darren (Ron Washington) says to her “You know you’re hot, you walk around like you’re hot, you fuckin’ dress like you’re hot.”
She’s faux lesbian if that’s what you want . . . in fact she’ll do it with the blow up doll if that’s what you want. Tell her. Tell her what you want. And that’s what she’ll pretend to be into. And when she’s not sucking on some bong she’ll be sucking the Dorito residue off her fingers for you. Just watch her. Please. Just watch her. Stop watching and she’ll figure out a way to get you looking again. It’s her identity, and it’s perfectly devised to keep everyone diverted from seeing the real her.
Offsetting this Asian provocateur is her bestest friend, Jessica (Nicky Schmidlein) - a sweet, wide-eyed, easily swayed girl who’ll follow the leader, whomever the leader is at the moment. Sometimes it’s Lexi and sometimes it’s Darren who she happens to be hooking up with on this trip. Darren is strong, sensual, hip and sure of himself – and into Jessie just enough to make her a little too clingy when she offers to be whatever he wants her to be. She’s mimicking Lexi but with a whole different edge, and sometimes her inability to pull the act off creates an enormous misfire. (LEXI: You’ve never even kissed a girl, Jessi-Jess. JESSICA: Yeah I have. I’ve kissed the mirror.) Jessica is the kind of gal who has recurring dreams of ocean-eyed babies in a field of flowers. But, of course, there’s a story behind her innocent “I can’t do that” attitude which is brutally revealed as the story moves forward.
Rounding out the quartet is Andy (Scott Morse)- the geekiest of the bunch and therefore the most responsible. He’s the driver, the reason for the trip – and the resourceful one who knows how to start a fire, the one who thought ahead and brought tents, the one who won’t let anyone else drive because they’re not on his insurance. Like every guy who can’t get his act together enough to ask out the pretty girl, he falls hardest for the bad girl – Lexi – so sure that he knows the “real her” and can save her. When Andy and Darren are given a moment alone to discuss women in general, and their female companions in particular, it’s the saving grace of the play. (The characters of Lexi and Jessica are accurately written and stunningly portrayed, but that just means you can only take so much of them. Thankfully, Trista Baldwin recognizes this and gives us this blessed female-free section of plot. As Darren says, ” … with these hens. All this girl chat is workin my nerves.” The audience fairly nods in agreement.)
So all this begs the point – is this play successful because it captures the irrepressible inanity of these four students? If one uses the equation that a good war movie is the one that realistically flays bodies in front of you regardless of how stomach-turning the visual, then yes: this is a very successful play. Ms. Baldwin has written today’s college kids with all their crass, vapid, pointless conversation and set them in an ageless place of ceremony and sanctity. The cast of four are compelling, raw, at times heartbreaking, and at times exactly as annoying as they’re meant to be.
I just couldn’t help but be reminded of that old commercial of the American Indian who had that lone tear roll down his cheek as he saw his land being polluted. The juxtaposition is harsh – as it’s meant to be. But in the end, American Sexy wasn’t much more than a snapshot of four kids taken at the Grand Canyon.
~~~AMERICAN SEXY Written by Trista Baldwin Directed by Mia Walker Playing through February 22, 2011 The Flea Theater 41 White Street New York, NY 10013 Click Here for tickets