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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lascivious Something

Lascivious Something, the new play by Sheila Callaghan, playing now at the Women's Project, elicited not one, but two never-have-I-evers. Never have I ever:

1. Been so acutely aware that a play is inappropriately titled
2. Been held in such intense rapture by a single monologue.

The rest was pretty standard fare; a solid piece by a talented playwright - structured, articulate and thought-provoking, but not without its missteps.

But first, the never-have-I-evers. The play, which tells the story of August, American former Marxist activist living on a remote island in Greece with his young Greek bride, Daphne, and the unexpected arrival of Liza, a tempestuous woman from the August's past, is a very, very sexy play indeed. Sexual energy pulses through the stage; almost everybody kisses everybody else by the end of the play. The lascivious part of the title most certainly seems - at least at first glance - earned.

But upon further reflection, lasciviousness has little to do with the actual point of the story. The play is punctuated by little pops followed by rewinds of crucial moments in which a slightly different scenario yields drastically different results. This notion of a branching, warping chain of events in which even small causes lead to large effects is underscored in a monologue by a young boy at the end of the play. In it, he talks about the belief that his every move will affect profoundly the outcome of his entire world. He thinks to himself, "If I blink my right eye this will happen. If I blink my left eye, this will happen." He describes it as an overwhelming feeling, he asks, in a world where there are so many infinite possibilities for the course of every fraction of every second, how can anything seem real?

This, more than anything else, is the crux of the play. It examines the fragility of human existence, its terrible impermanence. In every moment of every day, with the wrong breath of the wrong word, everything can change. What we knew to be solid ground can disappear beneath our feet. It is in the struggle to cope with this truth that the "lascivious something" springs. The characters, in their lustful learnings, are trying desperately to reach out for something real to hold on to. At one point, August tries to describe the [nature] of his ex-lover to his young Greek wife by telling her that she would cry - sob - every time they made love. The first time, he recalls, he thought he was hurting her, but she said, "It's not the pain... it's the mortality."

The struggle to understand and accept this mortal fragility is much more the backbone of the the story than the sexual energy it creates. It seems woefully inappropriate to have given that energy such importance in its lascivious title.

There were other [missteps as well]. August and Daphne keep a young girl - or is it a boy? - on under the pretense of hired help for their vineyard. Turns out, though, that the girl/boy is actual more of a sexual toy that they keep around for their personal entertainment. The child, it is revealed, spends whatever part of the day she(he) isn't in a drunken stupor playing inappropriate sexual games with August and Daphne. The point of this particular line of the story confused me. What was it supposed to illuminate about the characters? How did it contribute to the story as a whole? And why - why was she/he so gender androgynous? The part was played by a woman, but mostly referred to as a boy, until Liza, upon meeting her/him asks, "Why do you call that girl a boy?" August and Daphne shrug the question off and never answer it satisfactorily.

The only possible purpose I can imagine for all of this is to take sympathy away from Daphne and August. As a couple they are eccentric and flawed, and it not unreasonable to believe he would have lived a more satisfying, actualized life if he had stayed with Liza and continued with his activism, or if he had left Daphne and returned with her. But for all the problems of their marriage and life, they mostly read and genuine people making a genuine attempt at a life and a relationship that they can be okay with. The boy/girl sex slave lets us know that the two of them are just as crazy and cruel as Liza, if not more. I.... think? Still, it seems like an awfully big bomb to drop for very little reason. For the life of me I can't understand what the child contribute to the larger story as a whole.

Still, for all it's problems, there was that monologue. The monologue, delivered by Daphne, begins by her telling Liza teasingly that she knows a story about her. When Liza is bewildered, August joins in the goading, "What is the one story my wife would have to know?" And he shows her a scar on his hip. Daphne starts the story slow and light. They were young, they were living out of their car, they hadn't showered for a week. They spent most of their time smoking pot and having sex. The story picks up speed and intensity as Daphne describes brazenly, in excruciating detail, right in front of her husband and his ex-lover, the last time they made love. How Liza was said she got so afraid sometimes, and how August seemed to make her solid. "You said the word 'need'," says Daphne (I am, unfortunately, paraphrasing), "And then you said it again." And then she bit into Augusts hip so hard she came back with his flesh in her mouth. "You woke up with his blood smeared across your mouth, and August was gone. That was the last time you saw him until now." The vivid detail, the violence, and the urgency combined with the terrifying immediacy of the relationship between the teller and the listeners of the story held me rapt. When Daphne finally let me go at the end of the speech, I was breathless. It was heavenly.


  1. "The only possible purpose I can imagine for all of this is to take sympathy away from Daphne and August."

    You got it!

    Thanks for the thoughts...

  2. Thanks for reading! And keep up the good work... looking forward to the next thing from you!