Jane Anderson’s new play at the Geffen Playhouse will have people talking. Sex is the topic with plenty of graphic sex talk throughout the play. Forget sexual innuendo; this is down and dirty sex itself, especially the paid-for variety. Despite vivid scenes between a gyno and a girl, an escort and her johns, and a woman and a stud, the play is ultimately more intellectual and comical, than sexual.
The opening gambit sets the tone of the piece when the actress (Maggie Siff), who plays the high-class call girl, comes out facing the audience to explain some of what is about to happen onstage. Although many of the scenes will include naked actors, the playwright has decided that, in order to prevent embarrassment or distraction, the actors will not actually BE naked. Maggie opens her coat to reveal a “nude” body suit, complete with mammoth breasts. Then she introduces the actor (Gabriel Sunday), who will play both a 13-year-old boy and a male sex worker. As he reveals his own nude body suit with its large dangling participle, the audience emits a group laugh, part relief, part reaction to the terrific sight gag.
Thus, we are set up for the evening of laughs and sexual titillation, tension, and testing of our own attitudes and inhibitions.
Maggie, the actress, puts on a dress over her faux nakedness, and then shortly removes it as her character, Charlotte enters the first scene in a gynecologist’s office, and into the stirrups she goes! All women know the awkwardness of this position, but it doesn’t seem to bother Charlotte as she chats it up with her new gynecologist, Dr. Rhona Bloom, (Polly Draper.) Other gynos have been judgmental of her call girl profession, but not Rhona, who listens and responds with understanding, as well as a tad of curiosity.
At Rhona’s home, we learn she is the divorced mother of 13-year-old Lewis, his own sexuality burgeoning, with regular visits to Internet porno sites. Mom is worried he’s not going to be able to relate to girls in the real world. This problem with today’s computer-and-iPhone-obsessed youth could be a play in-and-of-itself, but that isn't the main "thrust" of this piece.
We soon meet the divorced father (James Eckhouse), a urologist in the same building as mom, and they are amicable exes. So much so, that when her call girl patient has a urinary tract infection, the gynecologist refers her to her best-in-the-field ex-hubby.
Dad is also called upon to talk to teenaged son Lewis about his obsession with Internet porn, which the father tells mom is perfectly natural. Of course, as a physician, shouldn’t she know that?
There are many personally relatable issues that come up in the play: mom’s inability to communicate with her teenage son; mom feeling like she’s getting old and undesirable; worrying about who her ex is dating; her willingness to try something new, in this case, a male escort. Lots of different issues are raised in the play, the core of which is liberal thinking vs. intolerant attitudes about the call girl’s profession.
The top of the second act was my favorite scene – when mom and the male escort, arranged for her by Charlotte, meet for a tryst in a hotel room. It’s a situation filled with embarrassment and laughs, and Polly Draper’s reactions and comic timing are exquisite.
More serious issues surface as the piece moves forward with its numerous complications. Always fast-paced, never dull – the 2 hours and 25 minutes fly by. For a moment it almost seems like it’s going to turn into a “Fatal Attraction” story revolving around the boy. That’s where it seems to falter a bit; the end seems a bit abrupt and too easily tied up.
Playwright Jane Anderson is known for tackling taboo subjects; her previous award-winning plays have included Looking for Normal which dealt with transgenderism, and The Quality of Life, which examined right-to-die issues. Here, the subject of prostitution is handled in a contemporary setting with intriguing characters and shining dialog. The cast is excellent, along with stellar direction by Lisa Peterson, set design by Richard Hoover, and music & sound design by Paul James Prendergast.
Overall, The Escort provides an entertaining, thought-provoking and laugh-filled evening.
You might want to attend with someone you won’t blush with when exposed to vivid details about sex, from soup to nuts – and we’re not talking cashews!
THE ESCORT - runs March 29 -May 8, 2011
10886 Le Conte Avenue