By Michele Aldin Kushner; Directed by Bruce “Master B” Baek
Part of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 8.24.14
The Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street
by Kelsey Balzli on 8.16.14
The Text of Sex. Photo by Dixie Sheridan.
BOTTOM LINE: A cleverly crafted and somewhat painfully honest look at technology’s role in a generation. You’ll want to put your cell phones down for this one.
With a title such as The Text of Sex, audience members can only imagine what awaits them at The Connelly Theater. Live nudity? Suggestive slam poetry? One can think of a million scenarios if taken out of context.
Instead, it’s playwright Michele Aldin Kushner’s glimpse into typical, modern-day high school and family life. Right from the start of the The Text of Sex, I was a bit nervous that the staccato scolding of two parents (Tom O’Keefe and Patricia Randell) to their 16-year-old daughter, Delilah (Julienne Jones), would automatically distance the audience from the unfolding plot. However, as the family scenes continued, I could physically feel the tension of a marriage unraveling and a teenage daughter’s struggle to connect with her parents (and vice versa).
As soon as I heard an all too familiar cellphone ring in the theater, I was mortified at the possibility that it was my own. However, as Delilah and best friend, Jenna, played by A.C. Horton, playfully spoke about high school drama, their eyes and fingers stayed glued to their iPhones. With all of this screen time, I began to feel a bit alienated from the show. But eventually the phones were neglected long enough for me to relate with the young women.
Horton and Jones give very nuanced performances beyond the text, which sometimes flows like a '90s teen sitcom. Horton’s portrayal of Jenna, a high school teenager who is very open about her sex life, is multidimensional -- a refreshing mix of youthful enthusiasm and adolescent indifference. It’s Horton’s energy that drives the scenes between her and Jones. But the conflict between Delilah and her mother creates some of the most heartfelt moments.
The Text of Sex craftily illustrates a worrisome point about the 21st century -- the idea that digital communication has replaced genuine, interpersonal connection. This idea is reinforced in the case of Delilah, whose private parts become public domain with a simple sext to her boyfriend Jason (Mason O’Sullivan). Kushner explores the consequences in a way that makes us question what is truly private in our lives. From a failing marriage to the exposure of a young girl’s sex life, I saw a bleak yet somewhat truthful reality that faces the future of the millennial generation: is anything really private? And to what extent will we go to be understood by others?
While Kushner’s script focuses on a common thirst for personal communication, I was disconcerted by the rapid scene changes that left no time for emotional beats to resonate. For example, Jones beautifully delivers her last monologue in a way that ties the underlying themes of the show together. But the audience has only seconds to process her lines prior to curtain. Otherwise, The Text of Sext is an important Fringe show to see, as delivers an important message: “When people really communicate, they learn about themselves.”
(The Text of Sex plays at The Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street, through August 24, 2014. Remaining performances are Monday 8/18 at 3:45PM; Thursday 8/21 at 7PM; Saturday 8/23 at 5:15PM. Tickets are $18 and are available on fringenyc.org. For more show info, visit textofsex.com.)