Saturday, December 10, 2016

“Mystery of Love and Sex”, another winner for Diversionary Theatre.

Mike Sears is over six feet tall. So when he’s invited to come to his daughter Charlotte’s (Rachael Van Wormer) stripped down of all necessities college apartment for dinner, one that is served on the coffee table (with a flannel sheet for a table cloth) with pillows arranged on the floor Sears, who plays Howard Charlotte’s dad, goes through some pretty weird gyrations to get his lean, tall body settled in. He has a bad back and that complicates matters. BTW dinner consists of salad, bread and wine. Howard is none too happy!
John W. Wells III, Marci Anne Wuebben, Mike Sears
That’s just one of the funny rituals that pretty much brings the house down in this otherwise thought provoking play. Another is the practice that Lucinda (Marci Anne Wuebben his wife and Charlotte’s mother) goes through every time she craves a smoke of anything she can inhale. She snaps her fingers in some choreographed motions, takes a deep breath and still craves one. She went through hypnosis for her addiction.

So what does all this have to do with Diversionary Theatres Regional premiere of Bathsheba Doran’s comedy/drama “The Mystery of Love and Sex”? Not too much, but it does make for some unexpected fun in this fast moving discussion/production.

Executive director Matt M. Morrow takes us on Doran’s somewhat convoluted and exploratory journey into the why’s and wherefores of what makes our choices of partners, friends and lovers click, don’t click, work, don’t work, last, don’t last or never get started at all.    

The good news in this relatively new (and somewhat long 21/2 hours) play is that the audience has the opportunity to follow the friendship of Charlotte and Jonny (John W. Wells III), her best friend from childhood to roommate to almost lovers to almost married to parental approval to maturity and then some.

Mike Sears and John W. Wells III
More good news is that the relationship between Howard and Charlotte softens and at the end of the day in one of the final Kumbaya moments, “Hallelujah” Leonard Cohen’s musical poem could be heard (Blair Nelson) in the background touching a soft spot in my gut. That’s just me, but father and daughter relationships that are stretched to the limits of parental embrace move me.

On fathers: Howard is a mystery writer of some fame. His life style suggests it and if that were not enough, he let you know. He is also Jewish, homophobic, racist and full of himself as Mr. Right. If you point these traits out to him as is done throughout, he denies them ferociously. The one positive he has going for him is the unconditional love he has for his daughter Charlotte.

As for the mystery… as the title of the play suggests he’s completely in the dark regarding his daughter and the close friendship she and Jonny have for each other. The fun of watching the play unfold is watching their relationship evolve and in turn watching Howard’s thinking develop and change. And the mystery? That's for each of us to work on.  

Rachael VanWormer and John W.Wells III
Sears plays Howard like a Stradivarius. He wears his concern for Charlotte on his sleeve and never wavers in his love for her regardless of her changing attitudes vis-à-vis her own sexuality. On the other hand, he is like a moving target as his attitudes change from situation to situation; and there are many of those.

Not wanting to sound too much like a Jewish observer, but I do have some insight into the makings of Jewish fathers and the way they treat their daughters. Till the time of my Dads death and he was in his nineties, he called me his his Princess. Take that for what it’s worth.

On mothers: Lucinda is a Southern Baptist. She converted, somewhat but still manages to play the Southern Bell card when needed. The fact is that she is more socially open, more Bohemian and accepting to the goings and comings of her daughter than Howard. She has her own secret agenda to reveal as the play digs in.

As for her concern about her daughter’s feelings as they change (from sex interest to sex interest), it appears she blows off more than she holds on to. Loyal to a fault, she doesn’t have the same close relationship with her daughter, as does her husband. She’s more concerned at gotcha moments with Howard and always defiant in the face of adversity. Wububen seems available and believable for this role.

On daughters: Rachael VanWormer is made for the role of daughter Charlotte. She is fidgety, quirky, smart, questioning, possessive, pushy, loving and demanding. She strives attention whether she’s worthy of it or not. She plays the good daughter and friend against the bad daughter and friend with perfection depending on the mood, circumstance or whose she’s with at the time. She knows her father loves her, but backs away in spite of herself. 

John W. Wells III and Rachael VanWormer
She loves Jonny more as a friend but she is attracted to her butch college friend, this bald dude. She will have a serious relationship with her later on. In order to prove she’s not a lesbian, just attracted to another woman she challenges Jonny to have sex with her. This pattern of same sexual attractions unnerves her as it does her parents.

They want to accept her for who she is, but would be happier if she ended up with her African-American best friend Jonny rather tan another woman, whom happens to be (ready for this one) Jewish. They always thought the best friends would get married never imagining each had their own journey to decode into the mystery of sex and love.

On Jonny: John W. Wells III Jonny is the perfect foil as Charlotte tries to seduce him. He’s the right race, gender and close family friend/outsider to bring the real Howard to light when it comes to the truths of racism, sexism and every other ism associated with his mystery novels.

He’s also is the last man standing to admit his own secret trappings. Wells’ timing, body language and standing in the center of this little foursome’s universe completes Doran’s search for our true sexual identities. Wells is charming, beautiful and in the right place at the right time.  

Doran’s play fresh off the pages from successful runs at Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theatre Club and The Taper in Los Angeles is a winner for Diversionary. So far their season has been top notch. Sean Fanning’s set design is southern whimsical, Karin Filijan’s lighting perfect, Elisa Benzoni’s costumes current trendy, and Blair Nelson’s sound, yes!

Rachael VanWormer, Mike Sears, MarciAnne Wuebben and John W. Wells III
See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec. 24th
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Phone: Through Dec. 24th
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where:  4545 Park Blvd. 92116
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$45.00

Photo: Simpatika

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