The Mystery of Love and Sex Review - Love, Sex, and Laughs

Playwright Bathsheba Doran has fashioned a two-couple dialogue exploring the perennial question of how to separate love and sex - or maybe why they should or should not be separated. The two couples represent a dichotomy - traditional vs. non-traditional, straight vs. gay, age and experience vs. youth and experimentation, white vs. black. Lucinda (Sharon Lawrence) and Howard (David Pittu) have been married over 20 years. They are invited to dinner with their daughter Charlotte (Mae Whitman) and her long-time friend Jonny (York Walker), who are students in a Southern university. The dinner of cold salad and unadorned bread are served “Japanese-style (cushions on the floor)” by the eager college kids. It quickly becomes apparent that Charlotte’s parents are unclear about her relationship with Jonny, who just happens to be African American. It soon becomes equally obvious that Charlotte and Jonny are also unclear about their status. They have been friends since childhood - but can that friendship turn into love? Especially when Charlotte may be falling in love with another female student? Nakedness becomes a metaphor for both physical and psychological disclosure.

 

Sharon Lawrence, York Walker, Mae Whitman, and David Pittu - Photo by Craig Schwartz

Move on 15 years to the present for possible resolutions to the conundrums introduced 15 years before. Things have certainly changed for both couples. Charlotte is planning her wedding to her girlfriend, while Jonny is meandering among various short-term gay partners. Lucinda and Howard are divorced. Which leaves the question of love vs. sex still a reasonable mystery. Philosophically, the play addresses multiple issues, including boundaries, disclosures, stereotypes, and what to make of life. The four characters are fragile and uncertain - but also likeable for their foibles.

 

David Pittu, Mae Whitman, and Sharon Lawrence - Photo by Craig Schwartz

THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX is an episodic series of events tied together by four characters with relationship issues. Playwright Doran has written scripts for a number of award-winning shows, including Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Her skill in developing episodes appears to have generalized to this play, which is serial and in some ways feels “sitcom” in nature. In fact, at times, the laughs seem geared to a television comedy series rather than to character development. The author may sometimes sacrifice personality traits to smirks and chuckles. That is not to say that the humor is not funny. It certainly is, and the audience clearly appreciated every line. It just may have interfered with the direction of the play. Brief detours are still detours.

 

Mae Whitman and York Walker - Photo by Craig Schwartz

Director Robert Egan has a good ear for timing and dialog and brings this talent to his work with these four characters. Takeshi Kata’s staging is simple, consisting of a few pieces of furniture, descending light fixtures, and panels behind the actors to set the ambiance for each scene. Scene changes were done in a beautifully choreographed way with the actors fairly dancing away with pieces of the set. The production crew did an adequate job of keeping the focus on the actors.

 

Mae Whiteman and Sharon Lawrence - Photo by Craig Schwartz

THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX runs through March 20, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Mark Taper Forum is located at 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. Tickets are $25 to $85. For reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online at www.centertheatregroup.org.

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