Off Broadway Reviews
I cannot remember, across my many years of theatregoing, any play that depended on the F-word more heavily than this one. To be fair, Kuritzkes typically uses it in its verb form, as innocently as it's possible to use, I suppose, rather than an outright curse. Still, by my count it's deployed 136 times in the 95-minute play and 79 times in the opening scene alone! "And" and "the" are vying for placement that good.
Does this matter? Yes and no. Like it or not, that word and the behavior associated with it still carry a tremendous amount of power; playwrights know that or they wouldn't use it. (Sorry to invoke Mamet again, but he's a master of exploring just what may be done with it.) But used the way Kuritzkes does, the word lacks any strength or substance: It feels either like a gimmick, an attempt to strip the word of any influence or importance, or both. Fair enough. In either case, the question then becomes: What does he do with it?
What indeed. The title derives, as you can probably already guess from the in-use vernacular, from a Saturday shindig held by six friends during their freshman year in college. "We thought 'orgy' sounded vulgar," explains Speaker (Jake Horowitz) early on. As with many things here, irony is heaped all around that statement. During his opening speech (which runs a full half-hour), Speaker describes how the group participated in their love-in, which started off skirting the ceilings of ecstasy but ended somewhere much darker when Barry and Alison's, uh, lovemaking became violent and apparently non-consensual while Todd rescued Allison, Linda and Stevie looked on in horror, and Speaker masturbated to the spectacle.
In merely this form, The Sensuality Party might have sufficed as a kind of young-adult Rashomon with a high-verisimiltude gimmick: It's being staged in theaters and student centers at various area schools through May 13. (I saw it at Pace University in Manhattan, but stops at Pace's Westchester campus, NYU, Brooklyn College, and more are coming up in short order.) If the writing has a definite titillation, even gratuity, factor, it raises enough issues to be considered basically educational. And though director Danya Taymor has given it the leanest of imaginable bare-bones stagings (at Pace, everyone except Vickers delivered their lines while sitting on couches in the student union), it plays well enough for what it is; and though the performers are hamstrung by the entirely narrative dialogue, which is almost exclusively in the past tense and thus precludes any real action, each gives you the sense of a lost person looking for genuine intimacy in all the wrong places.
It's outside this core that things get dicey. September 11 factors prominently in the story; that's the date the party took place, the original occurrence haunts most of their dreams, and, in the most gasp-inducing moment of the night, Todd articulates in lurid detail a sex game that echoes the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. (I beg of you, don't ask.) Kuritzkes seems to be attempting to link feelings of loss, rage, and violation to that event and posit the impact (or utter lack thereof) it will have on lives down the road. Continued references to the revolutionaries of the 1960s further bolster this idea.
But because the connections are so tenuous and unconvincing (I'm guessing, for example, that you're not supposed to figure out how old the characters would have been in 2001), Kuritzkes doesn't deepen the sex so much as cheapen the tragedy. And that gives The Sensuality Party an icky, exploitative feel that no graphical description of the group's myriad sex acts manages. If Kuritzkes has succeeded in showing the physical and emotional carnage that can result from wallowing in soullessness, he hasn't given his play the soul it needs to be any more relevant than the 11 dozen F-bombs that are dropped during it.
The Sensuality Party