Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Mystery of Love and Sex at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater

L-R: Mamoudou Athie, Diane Lane, Tony Shaloub, and Gayle Rankin in THE MYSTERY OF LOVE & SEX,
The Mystery of Love and Sex by Bathsheba Doran, currently being staged at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, is little more than a pretentious parody of a soap opera.  Will Charlotte (Gayle Rankin), a white, Jewish lesbian marry Jonny (Mamoudou Athie), a black, Baptist homosexual who is her college classmate and her “bff” since childhood?  Or isn’t she really lesbian at all?  Might she be bi-sexual – or maybe even heterosexual and just sexually curious?  And is Jonny really homosexual or is he simply preserving his virginity until marriage because of his religious convictions?  Or might he just be sexually confused too?  And does anybody care?

When Howard (Tony Shaloub) and Lucinda (Diane Lane) arrive on campus to visit Charlotte, they discover for the first time that Charlotte and Jonny’s relationship may not be quite as platonic as they were led to believe – and they’re not at all happy about it.  But why not?  They’d always liked Jonny, so what’s the problem?  It can’t be the difference in Charlotte’s and Jonny’s religions or cultural backgrounds since Howard is a New York Jew and Lucinda was born a Southern Christian (although she subsequently converted to Judaism) and if they didn’t allow their own families’ objections to their marriage to stand in their way, why should they object to their daughter’s following a similar course?.  Moreover, they had their own gay experiences in their youth (in reality in Lucinda’s case and at least in his imagination in Howard’s) so it can’t be Charlotte’s and Jonny’s sexual experimentation that’s bothering them.   Could it be that they – Heaven forfend! – are closet racists without even realizing it themselves?

As you might imagine, all of this “PC” stuff is enough to hold the audience’s attention for a while but eventually it does start to pall.  Not to worry.  Some gratuitous total nudity by Charlotte might re-ignite your interest.  And since this is, after all, a really politically correct show, it just wouldn’t do to restrict such  gratuitous nudity to white women.  So we are treated to additional color blind theatrics, in the form of  more gratuitous total nudity by Jonny too.

Rankin, Athie, Shaloub and Lane are all highly professional and do as good a job as might be expected of them with the material they’ve been given.  But while this mash-up may be very politically correct and occasionally maybe even a little titillating, it’s really not a lot to work with.  Indeed, it gives new meaning to the term “PC.”  Here it’s not only “politically correct” (although it surely is that), but it’s “pruriently caricaturish” and a “puerile conceit” as well.

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