Lauren Roth as Clair and Tyler Hollinger as Chris in Sex and Violence. Photo by Daniel R. Winters
BOTTOM LINE: A really dark comedy where you can get all your needs for sex and violence in one fell swoop.
When you step into a theater to see a show called Sex and Violence, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Playwright Travis Baker's production, presented by Kaleidoscope Theatre Company, has plenty of both with four capable actors giving us what we all want to see: sex and violence. The play is about a couple, Clair (Lauren Roth) and Chris (Tyler Hollinger) who finally admit to their significant others Jimmy (Jake Millgard) and Molly (Kendall Rileigh) that they have been having an affair for many years. There's the sex. The reaction of the significant others provides the violence. A really dark comedy, the production has the ability to make us laugh at things we really shouldn't be laughing at. Is a stabbing funny? In this play, yes it is.
Overall, I liked the play but I liked the actors better. It's a tough show to do and since I don't want to give any spoilers, I won't say specifics, but let's just say the actors have to do a lot. The second act is a lot stronger than the first because we finally get to see some pay off that is set up in the first act. I found the beginning of the show to be too linear with both its staging and the script. Although the theater offers lots of space in which to move around, the staging is rather two dimensional with a lot of back and forth happening. There are two couples on either side of the stage sharing their stories but whenever one couple is talking, the other one is in a soft freeze and dimmed lights which seems awkward for the actors. The first time there is sex on the stage, it happens during a monologue from Jimmy and of course our eyes are drawn to the two people writhing on the floor rather than to the actor telling his story. This is probably the point from director Marshall Mays who is proving Baker's program notes that people only want to see sex and violence. In the second act, the actors get much more of a chance to use the whole playing space and the show gets more interesting to watch. And yeah, the second act has more sex and violence.
All four of the actors get a chance to be really great. Rileigh has a world weary and dry delivery that gets laughs with the simplest of lines. Millgard, as the cheated-on husband, is childlike and dangerous at the same time and clearly shows that he is tired of finishing last as the nice guy. As the cheater, Hollinger is that guy who is both arrogant and cocky but we can see why the women in his life are so attracted to him. Roth's Clair is likable in one scene and a total bitch in the next. We see what her issues are and maybe by the end of the show, Clair sees them too for the first time, although maybe too late. Her final scene at the end of the show is a little bit heartbreaking and in stark contrast to the hopeful Clair that opens the show. Each actor is shown in a very vulnerable situation and they all handle it with confidence and strength.
The whole point of the show is indeed sex and violence. If that's what you're looking for in a play, you will not be disappointed. There are some good laughs ("Your tit's hanging out"), good direction and good acting. Maybe the script needs to be tightened up but you will be entertained. And hey, there's sex and violence. Anything else is gravy, right?
(Sex and Violence plays at Theater 3, 311 West 43rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, through February 28th. Performances are Monday at 8pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm. Tickets are $18 and are available at theatermania.com or by calling 212.352.3101.)