Austin Cauldwell and Dea Julien in INTIMACY.
BOTTOM LINE: A bold and engaging new comedy by Thomas Bradshaw. Plus a lot of nudity.
Sometimes you need to bring a pack of tissues to a production that you know will make you cry. And sometimes you need to bring a pack of tissues to a production like Intimacy, in case some fake ejaculate comes flying at you in the front row. Thomas Bradshaw’s newest play, directed by Scott Elliott, follows three families in a “well-manicured, multi-racial American town” following the death of a local doctor (the wife of the religious James, played by Daniel Gerroll). The families connect for multiple reasons in the first act (James’ son begins dating the daughter of Fred the contractor; neighbor Janet shoots risqué photos for magazines that end up in James’ house). But the families collide in the most sexual -- or intimate -- of ways once James’ aspiring filmmaker son Matthew (twenty-one-year-old Austin Cauldwell, playing seventeen) receives $40,000 to make two short films. Matthew instead uses the money to make a pornographic movie featuring various members of the neighborhood, including his own father.
Intimacy will shock many with its depiction of nudity (male and female), masturbation, sexual acts, sexual positions, characters on toilets and characters who so willingly let their guards down and cross lines (i.e. a ‘straight’ character who watches gay porn and wants to fondle the seventeen-year-old boy from the down the street). The New Group website says that “Intimacy explicitly explores on stage what goes on behind closed doors, between the sheets and sometimes even in front of the camera.” In this sense, the production is very successful. Was I shocked? Yes. Did I want to turn away at times? Yes. But is a character jerking off while spying on the hot naked girl who lives next door really that extreme? No. That could easily happen in real life, it just doesn’t happen often on stage. So it’s not so much that the many sexually charged moments in Intimacy are unbelievable, it’s that they make us in the audience uncomfortable. Even though it is the actors who bare it all, you feel like your own sense of privacy has gone out the window. But kudos to this artistic team for being willing to go there. It’s a risky endeavor (especially attending a matinee, with its older audience audibly stunned) but the script demands vulnerable, honest work from its seven-member ensemble. And that’s exactly what we get.
Ella Dershowitz impressively brings a layer of humanity to Janet, the young lady who makes porn for a living. Laura Esterman (as Janet’s mother, Pat) breaks down the façade that older women aren’t as sexually active as younger women; she is electric every time she’s on stage. Austin Cauldwell capably handles the most complicated character in Bradshaw’s script. He beautifully captures the angst, hopes, dreams and sexual energy of being seventeen. And Daniel Gerroll gives my favorite performance of the day as James. His timing is both comically spot-on and completely authentic for his character. Best moment in the show: James is trying to quit masturbating, sees Janet, leaves the room. That’s all I’ll say about that.
The play knocks down a major wall between audience and performer. We are invited into this quirky little community where everyone gets naked, has sex, masturbates and then gathers to create a porn about frottage instead of actual penetration. The thing is, you in the audience can either accept the invitation into this quirky community or not. Within moments, I accepted. Why? Intimacy has a clever script, fine direction and brave performances. Olivia Sebesky’s video design is invasive in the right way and Shane Rettig’s sound design adorably incorporates The Counting Crows’ “Accidentally in Love.” Put all of these elements together and Intimacy equals a lively, and sometimes riveting, theatrical experience.
(Intimacy plays at Acorn Theatre at Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, through March 8, 2014. Performances are Mondays through Wednesdays at 7PM; Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM; and Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM. Tickets are $25-85 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200.)