Sex--or rather "fucking"--are the big distractions on display in Lukas Barfuss's restrained The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents, but the action that he and director Kristjan Thor are really interested in are the small quivers just below the surface. To this end, this is Grace Gummer's show: she plays the emotionally restrained Dora with such control that the antiseptic tone eventually justifies itself.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents throws around the word "fuck" a lot, especially from the mouth of its protagonist, Dora (Grace Gummer), an emotionally challenged girl who is, for the first time in ten years, "pulling down the pharmaceutical curtain." The writer, Lukas Barfuss (translated here by Neil Blackadder), painstakingly describes sexuality, using the Doctor (Peter O'Connor) to stress the sheer normalcy of even deviant behaviors--Dora shows up one day with bruises--and concludes, after five minutes: "Don't go for more than two at once, and don't change partners more than a week." But the play is about a sexual awakening in the same way that fucking is the same as making love: what it's about goes much deeper, and this is where Kristjan Thor's direction is invaluable.
It's about the moment when the Fine Gentleman (Max Lodge) asks Dora's Boss (Jim Noonan) how much the government subsidizes his grocery stand--and how the Boss turns to his mother, Woman (Kathryn Kates), taken aback not by the thought, but of how it's been said out loud. It's about the moment when the Fine Gentleman--who is actually a sleazy door-to-door salesman--having lured Dora to his neon-lit hotel, explains that perfume is made from ox shit, and soap from pig fat. It's about the moment when Dora catches Mother and Father (Laura Heidinger and Charlie Mitchell) having sex in a trailer, and not with each other.
Like the unnamed characters themselves, the play is about these unacknowledged surfaces, and that's what makes the slow build toward Dora's true awakening so tragic. Beyond the dull "I dunno" and her energetic parroting, this girl, described as "almost not being involved," actually has feelings (although the sadism is a bit cliche--"I like it rough, otherwise I don't feel anything"), as do the people around her, who can only face their own damages in front of her. "No big deal," she says, after revealing that she hates wearing pants, but also after talking about the bruises on her body, or after describing what it felt like to have her baby sucked out of her; it's not until the final injustice to her that her casual response becomes choked, at last, by visible grief.
To this end, it is really Grace Gummer's play, and she utterly commands the stage in an immaculately restrained performance. At first, she is locked inside herself, largely talked at by her family and reduced to short monotone responses. But as she leaves the numbing drugs behind, her deadpan is interrupted by her sarcastic but spot-on repetitions from the world around her, something that only serves to make her even more of a mirror. By the end of the play, she is still fairly still, but her words are more and more her own, like her needs. That is far from a neurosis, and far too near to tragedy.
The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents (90 min., no intermission)
The Wild Project (195 East Third Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Performances (through 11/22): Mon. - Sat. @ 8:00
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.