Written and Directed By S. Asher Gelman
Produced by Midnight Theatricals
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 7.7.19
American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street
by Linda Buchwald on 5.22.19
Jimmy Brooks in safeword. Photo by Mati Gelman.
BOTTOM LINE: safeword. doesn't necessarily play it safe, but it also fails to be a compelling evening of theatre.
In 2017, S. Asher Gelman explored polyamory with Afterglow, which famously included a shower scene and lots of nudity. In his new play safeword. (yes, there's a reason for the punctuation and lack of capitalization), he's moved on to the world of BDSM. Though the ads display a naked man chained up, the show is surprisingly unsexy, not that it has to be. Unfortunately, it's also surprisingly dull, though it does at least shatter some preconceived notions, namely the idea that BDSM is always about sex.
Micah (Joe Chisholm) is really into BDSM, but isn't doing it for sexual pleasure. He pays Xavier (Jimmy Brooks) to torture him, and chooses a male dom because he isn't sexually attracted to men. But when Micah's wife Lauren (Traci Elaine Lee), who doesn't know Micah's secret, befriends Xavier's partner Chris (Maybe Burke), Xavier tells Micah they have to stop.
Though Gelman's writing is educational, most of the play that doesn't have to do with the intricacies of bondage is not believable, starting with the fact that they all conveniently live in the same building. Somehow Lauren and Chris quickly become best friends, but it's unclear why. Lauren mostly just asks Chris awkward questions. The bigger problem is that Gelman also directs, as he did with Afterglow, and it seems as if he instructed every actor to take a long pause before answering another. This makes the dialogue feel stilted and the evening drags on, but there is no safeword we can say to make it end sooner.
The design elements are solid, especially Fabian Fidel Aguilar's costumes, which immediately tell you who these characters are, more than the writing does. If Gelman continues to write about topics that theatergoing audiences may not be familiar with—a noble exercise—he would do well to spend more time developing his characters, and perhaps find someone else to direct.
(safeword. plays at American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street, through July 7, 2019. The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 3 and 8; and Sundays at 2 and 7. Tickets are $69-$89. For tickets and more information visit safewordtheplay.com.)
safeword. is written and directed by S. Asher Gelman. Set Design by Ann Beyersdorfer. Costume Design by Fabian Fidel Aguilar. Lighting Design by Jamie Roderick. Sound Design by Kevin Heard. Violence Design by Matt Franta. Dramaturg is Jillian Walker. Production Stage Manager is Laura Malseed.
The cast is Jimmy Brooks, Maybe Burke, Joe Chisholm, and Traci Elaine Lee.