Lindsay Iuen in GIN AND MILK.
BOTTOM LINE: A suspenseful play depicting two damaged characters’ attempt at a one night stand.
The New York theatre scene is often deluged with plays intended to shock audiences with their discussions and depictions of sexuality. This quality of sexual shock value is also often visible at FringeNYC, where shows mention sexual acts and/or genitilia in both their title and description, perhaps so they can garner a larger box office pull. Despite having “one night stand" in its summary, Gin and Milk shocks through its emotional suspense rather than its overt sexuality (though it still includes nudity and several blunt discussions of sex.)
While the plot does involve two strangers meeting in a bar, a one night stand is not an outcome the two have agreed upon or are sure will occur. The two were apparently set up by Christine, who hopes that if her friend Kate (Lindsay Iuen) meets Robert (Eric Wdowiak), it might help Kate heal the scars from her recent break up. The two awkwardly sit in Kate’s apartment sharing a bottle of wine. The outgoing Kate attempts to make up for Robert’s stoicism by chattering on full speed about whether their astrological signs might be compatible because “certain astrological signs mix better than others.” Kate throws out a few pointed lines with sexual innuendos to see if Robert will bite, but he doesn’t and instead stumbles through the cursory conversation. As the glasses of wine lead to brandy, Kate becomes more forward finally inquiring, “Do you think you’re getting lucky tonight? Because I can tell you it’s not going to happen.” She laughs, passing it off as a joke, but Robert tells her she doesn’t have to worry because he never has had a one night stand and never will as he’s a serial monogamist. He assures Kate that he is only here for the alcohol and conversation and has no sexual interest in her.
When Robert reveals Christine is responsible for the set-up, Kate is offended, thinking that her friend sees her as desperate. As Robert pushes further her emotional wall comes down and she admits to the wounds she is nursing from a longtime boyfriend who recently left her. Robert tries to console Kate with the cold probability of numbers, assuring her that it is only a matter of mathematics that will lead her to a new man. But he seems to be truly reassuring himself and soon Robert also reveals that he is bruised from a fiancé who left him from another man, leaving him lost and alone. As Kate and Robert dance to Billie Holiday and he extols her physical beauty, Kate is dazzled by the feeling that she is wanted, that she is in fact attractive and she asks Robert if he would like to kiss her. The two soon enough are in the throes of sexual passion and leap upon the couch with authentic clumsiness and hurriedness. As Robert tells Kate to tell him again and again that she loves him, it becomes clear that their emotional needs are far greater than any sexual needs they might have. Robert however can’t perform and reveals that he needs to believe he is in relationship in order to engage in intercourse.
They begin to invent scenarios of love and relationships to enable each other to be able to open up sexually, pretending for awhile to be newlyweds on their wedding night. Kate finally invents a somewhat successful scenario in which the two are married and have sex every day before breakfast, after, and again in the shower. It becomes clear that the two would rather have a night of feeling love amidst the loneliness of their lives rather than simple carnal pleasure.
Gin and Milk achieves a great level of authenticity due in part to the expansive stage at the CSV Theater allowing for the feel of a real apartment, the fact that the actors appear to smoke real cigarettes and drink real alcohol, and the fact that Iuen and Wdowiak are completely convincing in their roles as damaged would be lovers. The play’s clumsy, intense sex scenes are also among the most realistic I have seen on stage. Much like Patrick Marber’s play Closer, Gin and Milk is a riveting, intense work that succeeds in exposing the emotional vulnerability of its characters. Director and writer Antony Raymond creates rich, compelling characters showing authentic needs for connection.
(Gin and Milk plays at CSV Flamboyan, 107 Suffolk Street, #312, through August 24, 2011. Remaining performances are Thursday, August 18th at 5:15PM; Friday, August 19th at 7PM; Sunday, August 21st at 12PM; and Wednesday, August 24th at 4:15PM. Tickets are $15 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more show info visit ginandmilk.com. For more info about FringeNYC visit fringnyc.org.)