By Tulis McCall
Man and woman are high school sweethearts. They marry. He becomes a pro-football player, and they live the life accordingly. Big house, lots o’ money tossed about, etc. etc. etc. Tweny some years and two children later, the man wakes up and realizes that his life is a big fat lie. He leaves his wife and children, and sets out for the wilds of Manhattan. Once established in a loft of his own design, he falls into a relationship with someone 20 years his junior. This pretty young thing is sexually active and expert to the point of being dangerous. This is a whole new galaxy to the man, and he surprises himself by leaping off the preverbal cliff with eyes wide open. When his new love interest doesn’t take the relationship as seriously as he does, the man takes it so hard he nearly self destructs.
Okay. Not so much new there. But what if I told you that the sexy young thing was also a man? In our Manhattan reality this is also not exactly news. It is, however, like interracial love stories, overweight leading characters, and women over 50 – MIA on the American stage.
Consent by David Rhodes, now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, is looking to remedy that imbalance. The subject matter alone is enough to make some audience members leave while others sit and weep.
Ron Sullivan (Mark McCullough Thomas) is not a neat and tidy character. His wife Susie (Angela Pierce) and his two children are fixtures in his rear view mirror. All he can think about is freedom. Obligations are notes on a piece of paper. Ron is busting into a new life being led by his libido and his penis. Everything is new and nothing much matters except getting laid in as many different ways as he can. Or this is what he is telling himself. But the reality is that, while the you can take the man out of the family, you can’t always take the family out of the man.
This is evident when Ron’s sister Emily (Catherine Curtin) blasts into the play and the story comes to life. Emily is a woman who lives life on a large scale. She colors outside the box and looks out of place in Ron’s designer and very tidy home. But she is exactly what we need – and so does Ron. She listen’s to the story of new romance and some off the charts sex with a combination of disbelief and impatience. It is one thing to leave your life and come out of the closet. It is another to disregard your family and responsibilities and even worse to behave recklessly – and that is the path Ron is treading. Not treading – it is the path down which he is galloping.
With his new Yale Law Student boyfriend Kurt (Michael Goldstein) he has discovered not only sex with a man, but S&M as well. Who needs family? Ron is like a man who hasn’t eaten in a month and is suddenly face to face with a smorgasbord. He can barely wrap his mind around this new experience, never mind the added twist of role playing in the extreme.
We experience this sex, tastefully staged, as it happens. But we really experience it when Ron tells his sister Emily. The actual magnitude of the situation never quite delivers itself to us in real time because as a couple, Thomas and Golstein never seem to reach the boiling point. They do go through the motions, but the spark of insane sex never catches on and bursts into flame. This is also true for Ron’s relationship with Susie (Angela Pierce) his ex-wife who has little to do other than wish him back in her life and in their house. Life without Ron is unthinkable. It is only in her scene with Ms. Curtain that we see Susie laid bare and vulnerable – not so much in her interactions with Ron himself.
Rhodes is writing about a world that is very real and very marginalized in our precious society. Love and (egads) sex between men is one of those things that a person does not discuss in polite society, and certainly not over cocktails at the Ritz, Actually, we timid folk don’t discuss sex much at all. It is better left to the imagination or the odd movie here and there. So kudos to Rhodes for being brave, taking risks and speaking his truth.
Were the relationship between these two men as believable as the relationship between the siblings – I would be ecstatic. This, however, is not the case. Thomas and Goldstein are sincere, but they are not passionate. In addition, it is difficult to imagine Mr. Thomas as a football player. He is trim and very easy on the eyes, but imagining him on a football field is a stretch.
It is Curtin who brings us passion and depth by the boatload. Through her we have a direct connection to the train wreck that was Ron’s marriage as well as to the only unconditional love that is still standing when the the other relationships have either caved in or are teetering on the brink of disaster. Ron’s children are mentioned but never seen. There are no friends evident. His wife is of little use or value. There is only the boy – who is not without his merits – and Emily.
It is Emily who, with a ferocity worthy of a mountain lion defending her cubs, talks Ron down off the edge. It is Emily who refuses to let Ron sit alone in the closet any longer. It is Emily who understand the terror and the truth and who chooses in her own reckless way to love, and to hope, and to live.
And because of that, the young man three seats away from me was reduced to tears.
CONSENT written and directed by David Rhodes
WITH Catherine Curtin, Michael Goldstein, Angela Pierce, Mark McCullough Thomas
Produced by Robin Reinach, Michael T. Cohen, Andrew B. Cohen and Ben Feldman; at The Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street). Opening night is June 11th. Performances are Tuesdays at 7PM, Wednesdays at 8PM, Thursdays at 8PM, Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 4PM and 8PM and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $60 dollars for general admission with premium reserved seating available. Tickets are available through OvationTix at 212-352-3101 or by visiting www.ConsentThePlay.com.