Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
The Mystery of Love & Sex
Also see Mark's review of Selfies at the Clown Motel
Johnny (Wesley Allen) and Charlotte (Tess Burgler) have been friends since the age of 9. He is a black Christian, she a white Jew. In spite of this, Charlotte's parents have accepted him as a member of the family. Charlotte and Johnny are the kind of friends who use each other as sounding boards and who share their innermost secrets (especially ones they would keep from their parents). As the play opens, the two college freshmen are hosting a dinner for Charlotte's parents in her very plain dorm room. Charlotte's father Howard is a New York born Jew who writes pulp detective novels, while Southern born Christian Lucinda keeps house in their cozy home in the South. They are as liberal and open minded a couple as you could find. Lucinda even converted to Judaism (but as Howard points out, she is not "a true Jew").
The meal is as modest as the room setting as the four sit on the floor at two low end tables covered with a red checkered flannel bed sheet for a meal of plain salad and bread. Lucinda loves the "bohemian" flavor of the evening while Howard with his bad back is not happy with the seating arrangement or the prospect of eating dry bread and plain salad. When Johnny volunteers to run to the store for butter, the parents ask pointed questions of Charlotte. Why did she choose to go to the same college as Johnny (a small unnamed Southern University near their homes) when she had an open invitation to Yale? How intimate is her relationship with Johnny? What are her life plans concerning him? The answers they get force the couple to radically adjust their perspective. It seems that, according to Charlotte, she and Johnny are "beyond dating" and their relationship is evolving.
When Howard and Lucinda leave, the two youngsters get very drunk and Charlotte attempts to seduce Johnny who, due to his strict Baptist upbringing, wishes to remain a virgin even though he dated in high school. Charlotte confesses that she has a crush on a girl in her class. With Charlotte revealing her leaning toward bi-sexual and lesbian relationships, Johnny reveals that he may be leaning toward being gay.
While the parents try to keep up with Charlotte and Johnny's decisions, their own marriage is falling apart due to a lack of sexual fulfillment ("it's been years") that leads to Lucinda having an affair. As the second act begins it is five years later and major changes have occurred in all of the characters' lives.
The play delves deeply into subject matter concerning relationships, love, hate, forgiveness, and liberal attitudes and must be watched with close attention to details in order to fully realize the many interlocking themes. As in many family situations there is a finely balanced love/hate relationship among all of the play's protagonists. At one point Johnny verbally attacks Howard, telling him that he feels that his novels are racist and sexist (Johnny even wrote a thesis on this very subject). The argument escalates to a physical brawl.
Director Shannon Sindelar's cast, for the most part, are excellent. Tess Burgler is superb as Charlotte, bringing a bubbly innocence while showing the character's vulnerability. Scott Miller as Howard is the perfect picture of parental befuddlement as he constantly has to readjust his liberal gauge to meet new circumstances and information. Heather Anderson Boll steals the stage as Lucinda whose coping mechanisms for life include her analyst's suggested breathing and finger snapping exercise, cigarettes, and pot.
There is one possible exception to the well thought out characterizations. Wesley Allen, who plays Johnny, gives a consistently wooden performance that at times is monotone. It is as if his character suffers from a mild form of adult ADD. It is not apparent if this dry effect is due to a decision by the actor, the director, or the playwright. It is only at play's end when Johnny takes off his clothes and dances at Charlotte's wedding (away from the reception area) that he becomes truly animated.
The Mystery of Love & Sex has strong social themes that include interracial relationships, inter-religious relationships, sex, gay lifestyles, and gay marriage. Some may find it less fulfilling due to its mature nature. As Lucinda would put it, "It's so bohemian." The show contains some strong language and full nudity (male and female), a rare sight on a Cleveland stage.
The Dobama Theatre production of The Mystery of Love & Sex runs through October 2, 2016, at 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, with show days and times: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available for all shows and may be purchased online at http://www.dobama.org or by calling (216) 932-3396.