Heating up winter is The New Group production of Intimacy, the latest provocation from Thomas Bradshaw, who has adapted a few cinematic outrages from John Waters (Pink Flamingos) and Todd Solondz (Happiness), put them onstage, and gone even further. Here the author of Burning, a stew of unmentionables also presented by the company, crosses cozy family dramas (including a reading of Goodnight Moon) with Caligula (cue hardcore footage from Deep Throat, played on a monitor that flickers to life periodically).
I’m not entirely sure what Bradshaw is up to, but the first act, at least, will raise eyebrows and perhaps a private part or two, depending on your lusts. Suburban dad James (Daniel Gerroll), born again but emotionally befogged since the death of his wife, seeks to connect with his teen son, Matthew (Austin Cauldwell), an aspiring filmmaker, by buying him video equipment and financing his first movie. Sarah (Dea Julien), Matthew’s virginal but venturesome girlfriend, comes up with a subject in between their frequent, semi-explicit trysts: a frottage (look it up) skin flick, co-starring the girl next door, Janet (Ella Dershowitz), who moonlights as a porn actress. Janet’s line of work discomfits – and, in a dream sequence, arouses – her dad, Jerry (Keith Randolph Smith). But mom Pat (Laura Esterman) is unfazed. So long as she’s not making “exploitative,” Barely Legal-type movies, Janet’s career choice is fine by her, and she urges her husband and neighbors to be more supportive as the play swirls into a vortex of sex fantasies, with real genitalia and simulated orgasms a-plenty. (Plus, giving us our money’s worth, vomiting, flatulence and fecal examination.)
Bradshaw writes in the values-neutral language of porn actors and other societal outliers urging us squares to give up our hang-ups and accept what cultural mores dictate as unacceptable, and it’s amusing to watch the winds shift in favor of the forbidden, with Gerroll’s slow-burning James holding out the longest despite the enticements of Janet. (The creamy, redheaded Dershowitz, comically cast as mixed race, is the daughter of Alan, whose counsel might be retained for future productions that conflict with community standards). Scott Elliott has directed the piece with metronomic precision, allowing audience reaction to seep in come what may. The older folks at my performance were expectedly titillated and shocked, the younger ones, unpredictable. “Isn’t that sweet?” cooed a woman, not much older than the teen characters, when Matthew, eager to make his film, agreed to a homosexual advance by a potential participant (played by David Anzuelo, whose full-frontal commitment to the role is … impressive).
What does the playwright have to say about values in the era of reality TV, tabloid confessional and abdicated privacy? As the second act settles into an outsized bed for coupling and tripling, mum’s the word. The point seems to be that being sated leaves us sedated, but with Bradshaw leaving it to us to guess, Intimacy becomes, perhaps intentionally, tedious. A play with multiple climaxes fails to stick the landing.