Intimacy, A Man’s A Man and Almost, Maine

Intimacy is a mess and A Man’s A Man is a bore, but Almost, Maine at least has as a great cast.

Intimacy   (1 star)
A Man’s A Man   (2 stars)
Almost, Maine   (2 ½ stars)

More provocateur than playwright, Thomas Bradshaw’s Intimacy at The New Group is a vile piece of claptrap that’s as tasteless as it is banal.  Directed with a leaden hand by Scott Elliott (who also directed Bradshaw’s revolting play Burning in 2011), Intimacy is a mind-numbing look at dysfunctional suburbanites who end up making a “neighborhood porn” film together.  One assumes Bradshaw is trying to say something about pornography and the hypocrisy of America’s puritan attitudes toward sex.  But the problem is Bradshaw’s a lousy writer and resorts to shocking his audience with sensational ‘stage business’ instead of provoking them to think with three-dimensional characters and authentic dialogue.  Of course, it doesn’t help Elliott has directed the game (and brave!) cast to speak and act like performers in a 1970’s porn movie.  As with Bradshaw’s previous work there’s lots of nudity and simulated sex.  But in Intimacy the audience is also subjected to an actor sitting on a toilet having a noisy bowel movement, full-frontal erections and copious masturbation and frottage scenes that includes ejaculations of almond-milk to simulate semen.  If Tony Kushner had written it, then all the on-stage antics might have added up to something provocative and enlightening.  But as Bradshaw has written it and Elliott directed it, Intimacy is an embarrassing bore.

One has to wonder what possessed Classic Stage Company to produce Bertolt Brecht’s 1925 meditation on the mutability of identity in wartime, A Man’s A Man.  Director Brian Kulick has a lot of clever ideas for staging the story of Galy Gay, an Irish dock porter who is systematically transformed into a model soldier and dehumanized in the process, and composer Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) has written a handful of zesty tunes to accompany them.  But despite a hard-working cast and its exotic setting of British Colonial India, this revival of A Man’s A Man is a bit of a bore.  CSC has gone out on a limb casting Justin Vivian Bond in a pivotal supporting role as the Widow Begbick (a role which won Olympia Dukakis an Obie in a 1962 revival).  As one would expect, Bond (Kiki of ‘Kiki & Herb’ fame) handles the songs with panache but she’s less comfortable with the acting component of the role, often fumbling her lines and appearing slightly flummoxed.  There’s solid work, however, from Gibson Frazier as Gay and Jason Babinsky, Steven Skybel and Martin Moran as the soldiers who transform him into a soulless, fighting machine.

It’s a testament to the skills of the cast that Almost, Maine is entertaining because none of its charm can be attributed to John Cariani’s cloying and sticky-sweet script.  First seen in 2006 at the Daryl Roth Theatre where it played for a month and received very mixed reviews, Almost, Maine is comprised of a dozen vignettes about relationships all set in – you guessed it – that wacky state of Maine.  In its defense, and somewhat incredulously, over the last eight years Almost, Maine has become one of the most produced plays in the land as well as being translated into multiple languages and performed in fifteen additional countries.  But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t get a cavity watching it.  Playwright Cariani takes ‘metaphor’ to extreme in Maine so that when people fall in love, they literally fall down.  And when an arguing couple is waiting for the other shoe to drop, a shoe literally falls from the sky.  You get the idea.  But major kudos to the funny John Cariani (yes, he’s the playwright), the gifted Donna Lynne Champlin, the sincere Kevin Isola and the winning Kelly McAndrew.  They almost overcome all the sweetness in Cariani’s well-meaning script.

Intimacy plays through March 8 at The New Group @ Theatre Row (410 W 42nd St, TheNewGroup.org).  A Man’s A Man plays through February 16 at Classic Stage Company (136 E 13th St, ClassicStage.org).  Almost, Maine plays through March 2 at the Gym at Judson (243 Thompson St @ W 4th St, www.TransportGroup.org).

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