By Massimo Iacoboni
A sensitive man, if deprived of love and sex, will become a creep and a jerk. A woman looking for love, if beautiful, will find it all but impossible not to flirt with every man she meets.
In Eric Maierson’s new play, Reprise interactions between men and women are loaded with sexuality, and if you snooze, you lose: being the good guy is only going to make you lonely. If you are a beautiful woman, on the other hand, your personal identity is defined by how proficiently seductive you can be. It is a grim view of heterosexual interpersonal dynamics, but is there something to it?
Michael (Ken Forman) lives in a drab apartment whose decor is a reflection of his personality: stuck in the past. He jokes that his furniture is going to look hip again anytime soon, but doesn’t really believe it.
A simple soul, and not exactly a shining example of the American Dream, Michael plays the guitar at children’s parties and does menial office work to make ends meet. He is single, but on this particular night he’s waiting for an old flame to show up at his place, after an absence of several years. Not that they ever had an affair, mind you. Erin (Tara Westwood) is an extravagantly beautiful woman Michael has had a crush on for most of his life, or at least since they were in college together, some 24 years ago.
Erin, now married and living elsewhere, has called to say she is in need of a place to stay, after her plan to spend the night at her brother’s has gone unexpectedly awry.
Michael’s friend Leonard (Sean Patrick Folster), a Russian emigre who looks and sounds like a cartoon character, is keeping him company before Erin arrives. He lectures Michael on how to treat women with language as subtle as Donald Trump’s on an Access Hollywood bus: a self-described “vaginal slayer,” Leonard is the unapologetic, comic book version of the lewd Russian mafioso, the kind who, after shaking your hand, would make you run breathlessly for the nearest dispenser of Purell.
“Locker room talk” doesn’t even begin to describe the dialogue in the play’s beginning scene, which might nevertheless make you smile through very gritted teeth. It’s as broad as humor gets, and it makes for rather juvenile comedy. Michael endures it amicably, but he has no choice. The New York theatre public does.
Leonard finally departs, and the beautiful Erin arrives. Ms Westwood, a former model, brings as much emotional depth to the role as she would to a skin care ad. Not that she is given much to work with, for Erin has evidently no personal accomplishments nor biographical details worthy of Mr. Maierson’s time. Her character exists only in relation to Michael’s lust, to the men she dated while in college, to the men she fantasizes about, to her dad who used to play-spank her when she was a child and finally to her husband who, we are informed, “likes to leave his seed around the house.”
And if that weren’t enough to make you cringe, Erin, who has absolutely no intention of sleeping with Michael, nevertheless flirts with him unabashedly. What else do women do? She gets undressed in front of him to change into another dress, but bids him “no peeking”. She sashays about the apartment while casually dropping the news that her husband no longer enjoys oral sex. She coyly leans on Michael’s shoulder, later to inform him that she is not above having extra marital affairs. And yet she rebuffs each of his advances.
Needless to say, Erin’s knees start giving way when “vaginal slayer” Leonard comes back to the apartment and gives her a stern talking to, presumably with the intention of softening her resolve not to sleep with Michael.
It is the kind of scene that makes you shift uncomfortably in your seat. Every possible thread of dramatic coherence unravels as Leonard manhandles and threatens Erin, she only half-resists him while Michael, revealing himself devoid of a moral center, teeters between passivity and sexual aggression. It is hard not to feel anything but contempt for each of these characters.
REPRISE Written and Directed by Eric Maierson.
With Ken Forman, Tara Westwood and Sean Patrick Folster.
Monique Vukovic (assistant director), Josh Iacovelli (scenic design/ production manager), Daisy Long (lighting), Dustin Cross (costumes), Charles Casano (stage manager), and Alice Hakvaag (assistant stage manager).
Through June 11, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Paradise Factory Theater is located at 64 East 4th Street, between Second Avenue and Bowery – accessible from the F at Second Avenue. Tickets are $20, available at 212-352-3101 or www.repriseplay.com.