Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Sexual Life of Savages by Ian MacAllister-McDonald

By Joe Straw

Ian MacAllister-McDonald, the writer, doesn’t hold back.  He takes you by your (male or female body part here) and thrashes you within an inch of your sexual being all for the sake of arriving at a truth from characters.  - Narrator

In the nether region of sexual exploration, our scantily clad characters, in profound darkness, and in the red light districts of their minds, explored the non-entangled mass of humanity before them, each deciding, in their iniquitous state, if a connection, or a viable option is pleasing to their erotic tastes.  Fatuously jostling in the hopes this night would ultimately satisfy an orgasmic need. 

But accepting that partner also invites a neurotic being into bed, a savage being at that, with different patterns of thought.  (Well, different than yours.)  Oh, the perverted thoughts of someone, not you!

And in the end, on this night, home is the only option, crawling home to contemplate the night and the miserable indignities of one, in bed, alone, well at least for some.

Theatre makes strange bedfellows and this kind of theatre is so much fun.

Skylight Theatre Company presents the World Premiere of The Sexual Life of Savages by Ian MacAllisyter-McDonald and directed by Elina de Santos through August 16, 2014 at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 South Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, California.

Clark (Burt Grinstead) is happy to share his wife Alice (not seen), along with sharing the sorted details of their sexual conquests, a not-so-righty twosome, finding one other, and engaging in a savage ménage a trois, in this small conservative suburb.  The titillating telling of intimate details laid out, splayed out, for a one-time affair, two if completely satisfied.

In another space, two other lovers occupy a bed.  The conversation starts innocently enough, as a couple would have in bed - a story about a boy having sex with the family pet. One would think this might lead to a romantic interlude but given the discussion, no chance. Hal (Luke Cook) has other things on his mind about his girlfriend, Jean (Melissa Paladino), and that is discussing the intimate details of her promiscuous sex life with seven different men.

“How does this affect you?” – Jean

“I want you not to have done it.” – Hal

By all means it’s too late to be concerned about Jean’s moral fiber but Hal, a math teacher who likes his numbers intimately placed, is anguishing over the thought of spending another moment in bed with her. This is something he did not want, and a virgin is looking rather nice at this point.

Later Hal discusses his problem in the teacher’s lounge with Clark, the phys-ed teacher, over a stale cup of coffee that has been languishing, like an unwanted lover, for the better part of the morning. Clark ejaculates his stories of threesomes, all in a state of a moral nihilism, and rejects the confines of Hal’s puritanism, expostulating his theorem in the process. (Why breakup when you can bring others into your relationship?)

Not to be undone, Jean, in a drab blue medical garb, confesses her situation to her co-worker Naomi (T Lynn Mikeska).  Naomi takes the opportunity to describe what it’s like to go down on another woman. Their confabulation serves only one purpose, to expound her licentious doctrine, and if only to help straighten out Jean’s mental and physical suffering. (Everyone seems to think Jean needs help but she thinks she’s normal.)  

And alone, on a pedestal, sits pretty Alice (Melanie Lyons), our virgin-in-waiting, a school teacher by day, plagued by wearisome thoughts of her alarming age and her chastity, living with her thoughts of “I disgust me.” And yet, she wants, so bad she can taste it, but not articulate or physicalize it.

Hal and Jean are not ready to give it up, not yet. And the words, after therapy, keep flowing, until a remark burns like acid, so deep and painful.

“I miss…”

“I miss…”

“I miss how you make me feel useful, necessary.”

“When we met, you made me feel, not sexy, but beautiful.”

The Sexual Life of Savages by Ian MacAllister-McDonald is a thought-provoking night of theatre, of words, and of life’s carnal complexities. It is an articulated examination of the act not executed, but examined in its purest linguistic form and in its discomforting verbal intimacy. At heart, The Sexual Life of Savages is a passion play, eminently elegant, but brutal in form, which makes for an exquisite night of theatre and a lot of fun.    

Elina de Santos direction lets the words do the talking and, in the end, one feels better to have seen beautiful hapless characters wallow in their miseries and life struggles.  But, at the end of the night, no not the end, later, I wondered if her through line had de Santos’ mark on it, the point she is trying to make. What is the defining moment of this play and how do we reach that point?  Life begins at the creation of a thought, manipulated by conflict, and resolved in conclusion.  And these people go through a lot, all because of their libidos, which possibly includes job loss, mental anguish, and conflicting signals of unrequited love.  One has to ask the question:  Where is the sex in “The Sexual Life of Savages?” Where are the titillating moments of action, of sub textual foreplay, those little extras that pull us over the emotional edge into an extreme intimacy and eternal perdition? Because in the end, it is not only the words that guide us no matter how elegant or brutal they may be. It is the physical life that takes us one step closer. Finding the answers to that little extra will only help in this already fantastic production. 

Just when you think you’ve seen all the actors in town along comes another exquisite batch with their unique brand of truth. The acting is superb but not without comments. I have some observations.

Luke Cook plays Hal and does an incredible job.  I get Hal’s point of view.  He is in a relationship where they live together and, after some time together, Hal finds out his partner has had many sexual partners.   This is not something he wanted, truth having an extreme value in his eyes.  Still, he’s dogmatic and rigid about the kind of woman he wants and can’t get over that she was not forthcoming, and maybe she is not what he wanted anyway. There is a scene, near the end, with his ex, that needs definition.  Without giving things away, maybe it’s part of his character that is unsure of where he is going. Still, I’d like to see a stronger choice one way or another. Cook, an Australian, does a fantastic job with an American accent.  He is tall, very photogenic, and has some very strong acting chops, keeps the action moving, and is very lively.

Burt Grinstead does a fine job as the phys-ed teacher, Clark.  Clark plays a dangerous game as a teacher putting photos of himself on an adult website, sans clothes, spread eagle out there on the internet, for all to see, including his students, which they do get and that gets himself into trouble.  His response is a callous shrug saying it’s public information. Clark is always on the prowl and one is not sure that he has gained anything during the course of this play. Grinstead does some wonderful work on stage, but his character must have more conflict, nothing bothers him and he rolls with as little pain possible to get through to the end of the day.  

Melanie Lyons plays Alice, a woe begotten incredibly incongruous young woman that wants to be in a relationship but things are just not clicking within her being and she has a mental problem that’s may not ever be fully fleshed out. Still a virgin, and pleasant to be around, she is able to hold a job and maintains an adequate life style. But we get the hint that something is not quite right with her and her religious convictions, and maybe he is her last chance before everything starts falling apart. Lyons, also an Australian, has an incredible American accent and brings out some very nice touches in this role.

T. Lynn Mikeska plays Naomi, a tough lesbian, who thinks she can’t be beat when it comes to sex.  Free to offer advice about her lifestyle and tough enough to defend her friend when the time comes.  But runs into a little trouble when confronted with an opportunity for a threesome and paddles herself into a situation that she completely misreads. Mikeska handles the role with extreme precision and is wonderful in her craft.

Melissa Paladino plays Jean who is probably the only sane character in this play, despite what her partner may think about her sexual proclivities.  Jean has a great time trying to understand the characters surrounding her and moving to her own beat.  Still, that doesn’t mean that there’s a whole lot of hurting going on. Jean has a very big heart but the phone call scene to another part of the hospital needs more work.  Still, Paladino does well against her counterparts, has a very nice presence, and is wonderful to watch.   

Gary Grossman does a fine job as Producer and Artistic Director as well as Tony Abatemarco the Co-Artistic Director.

Hazel Kuang, the Set Designer, uses an elaborate bookcase with a bed that rolls out for those needed moments. The part of bookcase that folds in and out on each end has words that almost define the scenes: “three way”, “premarital”, “scar city”, “polyamory” (sp), “monogamy” and “abstinence” to name a few.  These are clever words that jump out at you as you watch the scenes, but one doesn’t understand how this works in the large scheme of things.  

Jeff McLaughlin was effective as the Lighting Designer.

Kelly Bailey as Costume Designer had the actors in drab unisex costumes except when they were out of their clothes and then the underwear was not sexy.

Other members of this delightful crew are as follows:

Technical Director:  Christopher Hoffman
Production Stage Manager:  Colin Grossman
Marketing:  C. Raul Espinoza
Publicist:  Judith Borne
Graphic Design:  Llance Bower
Assistant to Director:  Sarah Berg
Associate Producer:  Adam Rotenberg

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who loves hours of foreplay.

Reservations:  213-761-7061

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