(From Right) Nic Grelli, Lindsey Austen, Diana Oh, and Parker Leventer.
BOTTOM LINE: The Foreplay Play’s apartment setting, playful honest dialogue, and naturalistic acting makes this theater experience so realistic that you find yourself questioning if you’re really watching a play, or just spying on your cooler-than-you neighbors. Engaging and uniquely voyeuristic, if you're lucky enough to see it you’ll be talking about it for years to come.
Ten years from now, when you move out of the city to some woodsy suburbia, you’re going to wistfully reminisce of all the things you did when you were a hip New Yorker; from experimental art instillations and hidden rum bars, to breaking into hotel pools. Witnessing Mariah MacCarthy’s finely woven lusty play The Foreplay Play in a hip Williamsburg apartment will top that list of uniquely New York things you did when you were cool. Experiencing MacCarthy’s well-crafted theater in this non-traditional setting is a unique experience for the audience member -- the setting makes the audience so much a part of the action that it challenges them to question their reality. From the very top of the show when the first sounds of a drunken couple are heard from the hallway, there isn’t a feeling of being part of an audience, but more of being a quiet friend in the corner spying on this intimate and twisted affair.
The apartment in The Foreplay Play belongs to lesbian couple Kelly and Isabel, who’ve invited Isabel’s work friend Anika and her boyfriend Kyle over for a night of group sex. The audience watches from the opposite corner of the living room while the players busy themselves cooking pasta, pouring wine, playing twister and creating rules for the orgy in the open kitchen and living room. As Isabel steals moments with each one of the characters, it becomes clear that she’s the object of affection to too many, and Kelly is not pleased. Jealousies and alliances form, as the characters lead each other along and swap devastating secrets.
The strong and complex characters and relationships make Foreplay not your typical web of love triangles. Surprisingly true to life, these young characters are endearing and caring at some moments, and selfish and immature at others. Throughout the play, Isabel, Anika, and Kyle struggle with their want for stability and affection in the long-term partners, and their desire for something fresh and exciting. Only the morally questionable Kelly is consistent in her feelings towards her regular partner, and calls out her would-be-lovers on their hidden agendas. Each character is admirable in their own way, and this empathetic connection makes the jaw dropping moments of trust betrayals and power reversals all the more dramatic, leaving you bug eyed and a little scared for what will happen next.
Parker Leventer excellently executes mind games and blunt accusations as Isabel’s lover Kelly, and Diana’s Oh’s Isabel has secretive nature and steamy allure that’s hard to take your eyes off of. Lindsey Austen plays such an adorable and sweet Anika you almost excuse her selfishness and lack of consideration for her boyfriend, Kyle. Nic Grelli‘s Kyle, who seems like a 3rd (4th?) wheel at the top of the story, slowly evolves into the most dynamic character onstage. Grelli plays an empathetic and sweet, but dim and two dimensional Kyle, who’s good nature is too easy for Anika take advantage of. As the one man in a foursome, he goes from being a really enviable character to the most pitiable. To top it all off, director Leta Tremblay molds each scene so realistically, it’s makes you forget these actors aren’t their characters in real life. It feels that real.
One of the most admirable parts of MacCarthy’s Foreplay Play is what it downplays -- sexuality. The Foreplay Play isn't really about sex, it's about relationships. One of those relationships happen's to be a gay relationship, but that doesn't suddenly make Foreplay a queer play -- it’s a human play. MacCarthy’s characters’ transcend gender and stereotypes and never gets preachy about queer culture. They are written already comfortable with themselves in that aspect, and performed with the expectation that the audience doesn’t need a PSA about love and lust having no boundaries. Foreplay skips that, and just lets the characters dive right into messing up each other’s lives. Respect.
(The Foreplay Play is a site-specific produciton in North Williamsburg Brooklyn -- the exact location is released upon ticket purchase -- through May 6, 2012. Performances are Thursdays through Sundays at 8PM. Tickets are $18 and are available at brownpapertickets.com.)