I’ve no idea how many Fringe ’15 shows have sex as a central theme. But two plays I saw deal with it in circular modes.
The story traces a circle, each vignette observing a situation in which a partner is moving tangentially, outside the circumference of an established relationship.
Inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, a satire on infidelities in 1890s Vienna, playwright Cesar Abella examines a variety of modern extracurricular liaisons. Where Schnitzler draws stark cameos of hypocrisy, classism, and power-seeking, Abella sketches more gently, with less judgment.
Things start at a high comic pitch, with Sammi Lappin and Jim Martyka as a couple hooking up so uncomfortably they can’t even bare their names. In the next scene, we hit a speed bump. Martyka’s character, now revealed as Donnie, squirms painfully as his wife Elizabeth (Courtney Sara Bell) ferrets out the tale of the hookup — which, it turns out, she has encouraged, being in the late stages of terminal cancer.
The subsequent seven scenarios unfold swiftly with humor, pathos, wit and surprises — each disclosing something unexpected about a character we think we’ve gotten to know. The writing remains better than competent throughout, the directing simple and clear, the acting energetic and specific.
But to be honest, the scene where we meet the dying Elizabeth sets a standard nothing else quite reaches. It’s the sharpest, least predictable of the play’s many turns; the empathy it reaches lies deeper than any of the other motivations; and Bell’s intense, gentle listening and mortal wisdom illuminate the theatre like a full moon.
Sleeping Around is a complex comic achievement, more serious in intent than its playful publicity campaign suggests, and ambitious indeed for a Fringe play. Theatre Unleashed earns another laurel.
Sleeping Around, by Cesar Abella, directed by Wendy Gough Soroka.
Presented by Theatre Unleashed, at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd.
June 25 (11:55 pm).
The team at The Others looks at a different circle in our sexual life — predators prowling around a target.
Savannah Dooley and the troupe set out to explore “catcalling,” the age-old practice in which males of uncertain maturity call out sexual remarks to women in public places. Dooley’s script harvests a series of sketches, ranging from wittily satiric to poignant.
Anchoring the show are Sonia Jackson and Jessica DeBruin, two women waiting at a bus stop, and Madison Shepard, as a would-be wielder of privileged power.
As their privacy is assaulted by passing catcalls, Jackson shares her wisdom from a position of safety (“The only men tryin’ to get my attention now want me to meet Jesus”). DeBruin gladly receives her tutelage — and an empowering talisman — and develops the courage to become assertive.
Shepard’s atavistic male, meanwhile, descends the evolutionary ladder, from urban fool to stalking, snarling beast. Yet Shepard also betrays flashes of the utter lack of identity hiding behind the masks.
The hour’s high point comes in a hilarious display of “street-safe fashions” — a sharp answer to the “asking for it” school of drool that undeveloped brains often confuse with thought.
Since the Greeks, comedy at its best applies a swift scalpel and a soothing balm, to excise social cancers and hold them up to the light. Smile, Baby stands proudly in that tradition.
Smile, Baby, by Savannah Dooley and the company, directed by Kate Motzenbacher.
Presented by The Others Theater Company, in the Dorie Theatre at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd.
June 26 (9:30 pm), June 27 (5 pm).