Gina Lapiana, Matt Walton, Michael Colby Jones, and Jackie Debatin in IT'S JUST SEX.
BOTTOM LINE: An outdated comedy on lusting and thrusting.
The Actors Temple Theatre is a surprising venue for a play with the title It’s Just Sex, as it’s a real life Jewish temple with tiny peach colored bathrooms and walls covered with commemorative placards with Stars of David. None the less, audience members filter into the theater, crack open their programs, and immediately start laughing. The bios read like personal adds from some of the players, and a cry for help from others. Writer Jeff Gould’s longest running production to date was his divorce (which lasted 31 months), and Elaine Hendrix is a SWF who’s DTF, ASAP. Usually it’s a good sign that the audience is already laughing as lights are dimmed and the preshow announcement asks to set all cell phones to vibrate. But despite the best efforts of Rick Shaw’s direction and a strong ensemble performance, It’s Just Sex is just flat.
It’s Just Sex takes place in the '90s, white leather, suburban living room of Joan and Phil (Jackie Debain and Matt Walton). They play opens with Phil poorly seducing a hooker on the couch of their home, and the awkward tryst is interrupted by his wife Joan. Joan refuses to acknowledge the scene and insists that they keep their plans to host a dinner party with their sexy middle-aged couple friends: Lisa & Greg (Elaine Hendrix and Michael Colby Jones), the workaholic and her impotent second fiddle husband; and Kelly and Carl (Gina LaPiana and Salvator Xuereb), the button pushing sexaholics. Couples arrive, drinks are made, and after a series of revealing secrets and drunken seductions, Joan stubbornly initiates a “Swap” and infidelity predictably ensues.
The pass-the-partner party obviously brings up some conflict in the show’s second act, and the action settles into stagnant bickering between the couples. Confrontation is essential to good drama, but it usually involves some innuendo, present action, character growth, or it’s at least funny. It’s Just Sex’s incessant bickering rehashes the past opposed to what’s happening in the present, and it’s about as unpleasant as witnessing your parents fight over what happened the last time they went to Costco. It’s fractionally entertaining, your Mom gets in some good zingers, but mostly it's uncomfortable and dull.
That’s not to say that the players on stage didn’t put on engaging and energetic performances. Hendrix particularly wins the audience over with her dry delivery of intelligent and confident Lisa. Lisa is the breadwinner in the family and is adventurous and bored with her life, but oblvious to her husband’s needs. Salvator Xuereb as Carl is very enjoyable and the most dimensional character onstage. He exudes Carl’s enthusiasm for getting it on without being creepy, and acts as the sexual sage to his friends.
Unfortunately the ensemble’s energy is overshadowed by Gould’s nauseating stereotypical take on women’s roles in a consensual sexual relationship. Each one of the female characters is a plain-as-day archetype -- the workaholic who makes her husband feel bad, the beautiful but frigid and sexless host, and the sexy Latina massage therapist who loves to put out. The characters don’t really transform as the show unfolds, but they are told what they’re doing wrong -- not appreciating their men, obviously. What’s further infuriating is that all the varied relationships on stage do have the common theme of the man being the victim, even Phil, who was caught deep in a hooker during the first 45 seconds of the show. Spoiler alert: the morale of that story line is that wives should probably put out for their husbands, because when you don’t they are forced to cheat on you.
The men are stereotypes as well, but are allowed a little more growing room. Michael Colby Jones convincingly portrays second fiddle Greg, who feels criticized by his wife Lisa, and Matt Walton plays attractive businessman Phil who finds it hard to communicate with his beautiful but dull wife. They have slightly more forward momentum and resolution but eventually conclude it’s their wives faults that they are unhappy in their marriage. Ugh.
There is so much great cutting edge theater in New York that offers fresh prospective on sex and relationships, and confront myths -- like men being not attracted to powerful women and that women don’t like sex as much as men -- opposed to reinforcing them. This is not that show. While there are some genuinely sweet moments that make you smile alongside some hearty unexpected humor from the talented and energetic cast, those moments are few and far between in this out dated comedy.
(It’s Just Sex plays at the Actor’s Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street, in an open-ended run. Performances are Mondays and Tuesdays at 7PM; Wednesdays at 2PM; and Sundays at 7:30PM. Tickets are $39.50 – $59.50 and are available at telecharge.com.)