There is a very telling moment which comes two thirds of the way into Mariah MacCarthy’s play The Foreplay Play which is currently being produced by CAPS LOCK THEATRE at a site-specific location (WAY off-off Broadway) in Williamsburg. This dramedy about the tension which builds between two couples as they tentatively (and sometimes not so tentatively) lay the foundation for a night of orgiastic bliss has many titillating moments, but the one which encapsulated this show for me was probably the least sexual of the night.
After a series of awkward missteps, false starts, jumping the gun (but not without a few hot hot, drrrrrty, breathtaking, throw-you-up-against-the-wall, take-you-right-now-on-the-kitchen-counter moments) Kyle, the sole male of the intended foursome is strumming a guitar and the quartet has just finished a rousing rendition of Springteen’s Hungry Heart. In and of itself Hungry Heart is a beautiful moment – each character singing with completely different motivation: some with actual hunger in their heart, some with nothing more than Springsteen Joy, and others with the taste of a memory, perhaps. Regardless of subtext, the four voices blend beautifully, and yet perfectly naturally – the way any four people with decent singing voices might automatically take the harmonies. They all know the words, they understand the nuances, they enjoy the camaraderie the singing produces, and the moment is binding. The telling moment comes right after, when three of the four decide to launch into Since You’ve Been Gone.
“I don’t know this song,” pouts Anika (Lindsey Austen) and soon her pout erupts into full-on anger. She has a tantrum, runs from the room, and leaves the others feeling awkward, embarrassed, perhaps guilty, but – let’s be honest – a little smug. We know something you don’t know.
Herein lies the key to good group ANYTHING – but for the purposes of this review we’ll stick to group sex. In order for it to work, everyone has to be in harmony. Everyone has to feel comfortable. Everyone has to know where to pick up, where to leave off, where to come in, and when to hold back. Moving forward when someone clearly doesn’t “know the words” to a certain song (read – doesn’t know the rules of a certain situation) is only going to lead to tantrums.
What The Foreplay Play illustrates and illuminates beautifully is that bringing the fantasy (again, of anything, but specifically group sex) into the real world is a daunting process even if all the clothes are laid out neatly on the bed for you beforehand. Just because you have a piano and ten fingers doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly sit down and start playing Mozart. Even further – simply because you can play the piano doesn’t mean you’ll be able to play a complete performance of all the Chopin Etudes. And so – just because you like sex doesn’t mean you can have it with three other people you’re fond of without someone hitting a harsh note. Perception is easy. Reality is hard. Or … let’s go with “difficult”.
The foursome of The Foreplay Play is made up of Kyle (Nic Grelli) who is sweet, earnest and charming. He’s manly and studly but he’s gentle enough to break down and fall apart when emotions overwhelm him. (And this night is rife with overwhelming emotions of all types). Kyle’s girlfriend is Anika (Lindsey Austen) - a yearning, tentative girl who fancies herself experimental but, when push comes to shove, can’t get out of her own way far enough to move past “vanilla” (which, to this crowd, is more of an insult than a subtle flavor choice). They are hosted for the evening by Anika’s co-worker Isabel (Diana Oh) who is a power house of sexuality and seduction. While Izzy doesn’t actively set out to seduce everyone in the room she is somehow the center of the sexual vortex here as both Kyle and Anika find themselves longing for her in ways that (if you’re an audience member with any sort of pulse) will have you catching your breath. The quartet is rounded out by Isabel’s live-in lover Kelly (Parker Leventer) who is sure of herself, a self-professed Dom who dominates in rooms other than the bedroom and enjoys making others feel uncomfortable, even as she insists on ground rules and guidelines for the evening.
Throughout the evening of foreplay each gets their turn to take a spin in front of the mirror, as it were. On display this evening for all of us (and for each other) to see are each character’s most charming qualities, their most annoying habits, their sexiest urges, their most awkward discomfort. Separately and together they all find themselves acting out, taking the lead, taking a backseat, or simply bobbing along as they watch the inevitable happen.
The cast is strong, each delivering a nuanced performance which gives you an opportunity to side with them or against them depending on the flow of the evening. Under Leta Tremblay’s fine direction the night is hyper-real. The play is, as I mentioned, site specific – so this Williamsburg apartment (big by New York standards but rather intimate for a play) creates an immediate fly-on-the-wall scenario. (Be warned that seating is limited and, like a game of musical chairs, there’s a rush for seats once the apartment door opens. Latecomers will be sitting on cushions up front. Those with knee problems who are loathe to sitting on the floor are, unfortunately, SOL).
The intimacy of the space allows Tremblay to give the characters a whole host of real-time actions to work with – actual dinner to be prepared, actual exits from the apartment to be made. Tremblay also deftly balances all the craziness (Twister! Knife play! Costumes and fake accents! Spin the bottle!) with a solid anchor of gravitas so that rather than feeling MacCarthy is throwing a lot at the wall to see what sticks in terms of theme this feels much more like four actual people who are twisting and turning their way through a strange encounter in order to make it fit for all involved. Unfortunately no matter how many games of Twister they play the right combination just won’t fall into place.
MacCarthy aims for – and delivers – a night of questions rather than answers. A night of seeking rather than finding, and a night which flips over the rocks to explore the grime underneath. While no one gets very naked, emotionally the cast strips bare and the four individuals share intimacies on a level much deeper than the simple exchanging of bodily fluids. Ultimately sex is besides the point. MacCarthy, in her Playwright’s Note, admits that the play “ends up being a celebration of love, not sex”.
CAPS LOCK THEATRE, on their website, states, “We like plays where people are at both their worst and their best; where people screw each other–or themselves–over, and have to find a way to deal with it; where people’s hearts hurt, or open, or blossom.” I’d say that The Foreplay Play does all of this – and perfectly.
A new play by Mariah MacCarthy
Directed by Leta Tremblay
This play takes place at a site-specific apartment in Williamsburg - Brooklyn, NY
Location will be disclosed to audience members upon ticket purchase
Thursdays-Sundays at 8pm
April 19-May 6, 2012
Click here for tickets