Entertainment » Theatre

The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents

by David Toussaint
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Nov 19, 2008
The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents
  (Source:Xabier Tubela)

You don't have to wonder if a star is born at the Electric Pear's production of The Sexual Neurosis of Our Parents, at the Wild Project. The production materials make it abundantly clear. Grace Gummer is not only the lead in the play (which also marks the U.S. debut of up-and-coming Switzerland playwright Lukas Barfuss, and wunderkind director Kristjan Thor), she's also the daughter of Meryl Streep and "sister of Mamie Gummer." If that's not enough to make you scream "Barrymore: The Next Generation," then Mamie's not a household name.

Since Grace's sister has yet to achieve "Mamie with an "M" status, selling a show on her name, let alone her mother's, is not only unfair to the actress on stage, but makes you feel as if you're being duped. Grace Gummer is already a dead ringer for Mama Meryl (in looks and inflections); you don't need even more distractions to steer you away from preconceptions.

Luckily, once you get past the identity complex -- and it takes awhile -- the overly polite audience, and the stage star sitting in the next seat, you'll realize that Grace Gummer does a fine job in the role of Dora, a mentally challenged teenager coming to terms with her own sexuality while having everyone else's thrown in front of her. She's onstage the entire 90 minutes of the play, mostly uttering repeated phrases and extolling deadpan aloofness. It's not a thrilling role, and Gummer doesn't have enough internalized emotions to keep you riveted to her awakened child. On the other hand, she never drops her intentions or goes flat.

The most ingenious character onstage is Moza Saracho’s intertwining set.

The play itself is an odd mix of sexual abuse, dark comedy, dysfunction, parent-child reversal, and who's-the-smart-one-after-all psychology. Many will find the subject matter difficult to watch, some will be fascinated on a clinical level, many will be bored, and some would probably leave the theater if the only way out wasn't via the front of the stage. This reviewer found himself somewhere in the middle, enjoying parts of the play, but wishing for more flourish.

The most ingenious character onstage doesn't even appear; Moza Saracho's cramped (from necessity) set cleverly intertwines set pieces into each other, paralleling Barfuss's intertwining scenes. As the dialogue switches locations during sentences, the actors only need to turn their heads and (voila!) they're already there. The ensemble is effective, though almost all of them seem about five years too young for their roles. Peter O'Connor does a heady job as Dora's doctor, a role that includes an extensive and (thanks to him) oddly sustainable monologue.

Thor utilizes the small space nicely, although the scenes in the aisle make for a lot of cramped head turning. He makes a mistake in letting Jim Noonan (as Nora's Produce Store Boss) make direct eye contact to audience members. The role itself is confusing, and the fourth-wall breaking causes discomfort for all the wrong reasons.

There's a lot of good stuff to be said about "The Sexual Neurosis of Our Parents," in regards to both cast and crew, and in our own mentally challened sexual mores. I do hope the next time any of these talents are displayed we're not reminded of what a milestone we're witnessing. Left to our own devices, it's easier to see a star through the trees.

Through Nov. 22. 195 East Third Street. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased by phone by calling 212-352-3101 or online at www.electricpear.org.

David is an established columnist with EDGE. Follow him on Twitter at @DRToussaint.


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