By George Pfirrmann and Harold Pinter; Directed by Chloe Bronzan
Produced by Virago Theatre Company
Off Broadway, Two One-Act Plays
Runs through 8.2.14
The Flea Theater, 41 White Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 7.26.14
Laura Lundy-Paine and Dan Fagan in The Lover. Photo by Luis A. Solarzano.
BOTTOM LINE: This pair of one-act plays both explore the comedic and emotionally complicated aspects of human sexuality, creating a production that provokes both laughter and thought.
California's Virago Theatre Company paid to a visit to both New York City and The Flea Theater to bring a double offering of one act plays by different playwrights in different eras. While both plays are of differing perspectives and times, they both examine how people connect through sexuality and the power structures that emerge within this force.
In the first play, Arousal, Ukranian prostitute Albena (Laura Lundy-Paine) sits alone playing online Scrabble, consulting her stacks of dictionaries for the right word. Her game is interrupted by the arrival of Clifford (Dan Fagan), a 25-year old man afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome. Due to his disorder Clifford is completely alone in the world, without any friends or even a job. Since the death of his mother, Clifford spends every day alone playing video games and living off disability and his survivor benefits from his mother. Although Clifford has never had any sort of sexual experience whatsoever, his motivation for visiting Albena is not so much due to horniness as it is due to loneliness. As Albena’s Craigslist ad mentioned being a “special friend” Clifford hopes that Albena can be his new friend and suggests they play video games together. Due to his lack of experience and mental disorder, Clifford is rather hilariously maladroit at dealing with and understanding anything related to sexuality or even the adult world. Between visits from Clifford, Albena looks through old photos and curls up in a ball on the carpet, wrapped in a sweater, showing the audience that demons from the past that still haunt her. Eventually, Clifford’s lack of social skills and understanding leads to him confronting Albena about her own loneliness and troubled life, and it seems that the two might both need something from each other.
British playwright Harold Pinter began writing plays on the darker and more complex side of sexuality in the early 1960s, creating plays that were often shocking to British audiences. While the shock factor of the play The Lover certainly has lessened since its initial performances, it remains a suspenseful look at how one couple deals with their sexual desires and relationship to each other. As the play opens we see a conservative suburban British couple, Sarah (Laura Lundy-Paine) and Richard (Dan Fagan) discussing such trivialities as their beautiful view of the hollyhocks and plans for dinner. Their mundane conversation is interrupted by Richard’s inquiry about whether Sarah’s lover visited today. While Richard speaks rather calmly about the lover, he soon displays a bit of jealousy and Sarah asks if Richard has a lover of his own. Richard responds that no, he does not have a lover just “a garden variety whore.” His lack of interest and respect for his alleged prostitute seems to mysteriously upset Sarah. As the play rolls forward we soon learn that the husband’s and wife’s supposed open marriage is not what it appears to be and the truth is revealed with both comedic and dramatic results.
Lundy-Paine and Fagan give strong performances in both roles, showing both comedic and dramatic skill. Fagan is especially convincing as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, as he has the mannerisms and behaviors connected to the disorder down pat. Meanwhile, his portrayal of Richard in The Lover differs vastly from the other performances of this play that I have seen, as he plays his character’s emotionally intense moments as sincerely dramatic rather than slapstick, even when his lines are particularly absurd and his attempts at sexiness involve such things as playing a bongo drum and donning a leather jacket. (This interesting choice in portrayal can also be credited to director Chloe Bronzan.) Doing so changes his character from a laughable fool to a man struggling to fulfill his desires and balance them with the façade of propriety that society during this era dictates. Lundy-Paine is also rather chameleon-like as she manages to be convincing as both a prostitute and a conservative British housewife.
One minor flaw in the production that I felt could be remedied is the lighting. The lighting in both plays changes quite frequently from very bright to very dim. While I understand that this is in some cases a reflection of the events on stage, the frequent and extreme changes seemed to be more of a distraction than an augmentation to the production.
By choosing to pair these very different plays about sexuality together, Virago Theater offers commentary on the comedy and emotional complications present in human sexuality.
(Arousal and The Lover plays at The Flea Theater, 41 White Street, through August 2, 2014. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 9:30PM and Saturdays at 1PM and 9:30PM. Tickets are $15-$30 and are available at ovationtix.com or by calling 212.352.3101.)