It’s always a challenge depicting sexual intimacy on stage for any theatre company and add to the mix quite a large serving of sadomasochism with the requisite faux aggression and edgy role-play, actors and directors have a lot to conquer.
The cast of Consent do conquer, to a certain extent. Written and directed by David Rhodes, this new play comes very close in successfully evoking the life and sheer angst felt by a man who finally seeks to be honest with himself and who, by a chance encounter, gets to taste what he always knew would be real for him – living life as a gay man.
Late 40s architect Ron Sullivan, (Mark McCullough Thomas) seems to be living the American Dream in his NYC Soho loft he personally designed. His strong and well-cut physique attests to the fact he was once a former NFL football player who married his high school sweetheart Susie (Angela Pierce). They had two children together but after 20 years of marriage they are now signing divorce papers as Ron can no longer live the lie.
A chance encounter on a subway platform with Kurt (Michael Goldstein), a confident, wealthy twenty-something Yale law student, catapults Ron into a dalliance that turns out to be both utterly thrilling and yet so debilitating and heart wrenching for him. His meetings with Kurt are sexually charged and exhilarating – their age gap is used in role-play, they indulge in master/servant interactions and their play is always consensual. Or is it? As their meetings get more frequent, problems begin to surface.
The piece explores the difficulty in coming out in the middle stages of life, power and control within a relationship, what is sexual consent and the saving grace of brother-sisterly love. Rhodes does a great job through snappy dialogue and good clear scaffolding of the play to cover these topics with compassion and honesty. The scenes between Ron and his sister Emily (Catherine Curtain, from the recent Orange is the New Black TV series) are very well written and reveal the rawness of family ties. Emily tries to get Ron to come to terms with his new life and navigate his way through this new relationship with Kurt.
McCullough Thomas and Goldstein do well to romp around the stage for most of the time in just their underwear. They could have achieved more sexual chemistry and less awkwardness in conservations together and more attention to the non-verbal would have made their meetings more exciting and believable.
It could just be the case of a writer being to entangled in his own play and not having enough distance to direct it. It could just be that it now needs perspective, another director’s perspective. At different intervals, the balance of emotions was a not quite right. An actor underplayed a moment when you wanted more emotion or, at the other end, a moment was played in a histrionic fashion. Even more pathos could have been engendered if these balances were shaped a bit better.
This is M for mature audiences and I not to let it bother me that I sat next to a much older woman who grew more and more uncomfortable as the play progressed. Her husband must have known something would be afoot as he sat directly behind her in the next row. I thought nothing of it, putting it down to ‘only in NYC’. She proceeded to gasp at different times throughout the play, she was not expecting men to be parading in Armani underwear and getting spanked. At one moment, when Kurt spontaneously swiped the contents of the dining table onto the floor, I thought she was going to walk out. At the play’s end she whimpered to her husband, “Oh, Harry, did you know it was going to be about that?” Harry replied, “Why no honey, I thought it was just a story about college students in their frat year.” Was this another case of a curious husband and a knowing wife?”
Consent is fresh and provocative and will certainly draw attention during its off-Broadway one week run. With a little more rehearsal and tweaking of scenes, this production will be a raging success in future runs.
The Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
111 West 46th Street, New York, NY.
Photo credit: Richard Termine