Such Times: The 1st Annual Sex Fest

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday March 9, 2013

Heart & Dagger Productions seriously needs to work on their marketing. During their Thursday night production of Such Times: The 1st Annual Sex Fest, most of the seats in the house were empty. This was shocking because the market value of the breathtaking tits and mind blowing bare ass in this show alone should cause the company to turn throngs of people away at the door.

The company sets themselves up for a difficult task in their mission statement, to create "Abstract Theatre", transforming "the stage into a fiery dance fantasy" by using words in unnatural and stylized ways. Patrons are reluctant enough to go to traditional theatre much less its experimental counterpart. But what Heart & Dagger, under the sincere artistic direction of Joey C. Pelletier, offers in this event is something that will bridge traditional audiences to the avant garde theatre and help pay for an entire season of shows like August Strindberg's "A Dream Play."

Each of the 15 short plays in "Such Times" is quite traditional by today's standards. The space (Boston Playwrights' Theatre) is a common three-quarter thrust black box. The action of these scripted plays functions with a pretty firmly established fourth wall, and interactivity between performers and the audience is non-existent. (There are some wonderfully fun games over by the box office that engage patrons, like letting them share their anonymous sexual fantasies on index cards. Clever audience members can pick-up a date or two there.)

The setting and costuming are bare-bones, and this is perfect for this project. But a bit more attention to the props and set pieces would behoove the show. An end table that is painted black we will ignore, just as we will not question that a black platform is a bed. But an end table that has a faux wood grain and looks like it came from Aunt Hildegard's basement will make us look at it and wonder why these characters would put that in their home. There are plenty of bars in Boston and one of them will give you an empty Kettle One bottle, but when a pretentious gay porn star makes a dirty martini with whip cream flavored vodka your attention is torn from the action of the play and you question the producer's judgment.

The strength of this production is in the concept, the writing and the performances, clearly headed by the talented artistic director. In "A Mother's Heart," by MJ Halberstadt, a nearly naked Pelletier proves that he has the acting talent needed to pull off an honest and sincerely disturbing performance. He also proves that he has enough packed into his underwear to be proud. (Something he unfortunately tries to accentuate in a later play, which is unnecessary because it looks so fake.) Here also we are first exposed to this man's dedication to his company, a detailed heart plunged with dagger tattooed to his left shoulder.

There are many very interesting explorations of the way we connect and disconnect with each other as human beings in our sexual relationships, "She Just Likes to Fight" by Joey C. Pelletier and "Under the Upper Hand" by Mary ElizaBeth Peters. But "Playing Checkers" by Cassie M. Seinuk is the culmination of some of the finest insights this production has to offer. The dialogue is natural and the performances are believable. The audience is carefully seduced into a complex, upsetting and deeply human sexual relationship. There is so much going on in this short play. This script deserves to be developed better. At its current iteration, the ending is too "on the nose" offering an easy answer to the intricate questions evoked in the play's action.

Other highlights include, "60 Shades of Hey" by Lesley Ann Moreau - Josh Coleman lures the audience with his casual bravado and alluring smile. He is a man of simple needs, and his girlfriend's body is not currently one of them. Videogames have trumped eroticism in his life. Desperate for affection, Jillian Barry's character brings some eccentric proclivities into the bedroom and the results are hilarious. The reason this play works so well is Coleman doesn't overplay his part. There's no need to act outrageous when the script is outlandish enough on its own.

"What Men Do Alone on Islands" by the extremely talented Grant MacDermott, star of the Huntington Theatre's "Now and Later," has everything it needs to be great piece of art: two hairy, funky-smelling men alone on a desert island and desperate for human contact. Mike Budwey's character has gotten all he can from masturbation. Though he's never been attracted to a man before, he can't help noticing that Joey C. Pelletier's nipples are perfectly erect and poke alluringly through his torn shirt, his legs are strong and sinewy, and his butt is firm and round, barely masked by a pair tight pair of boxer briefs. (When you see the performance, take a seat on the front row, and I guarantee you won't regret it.)

Eventually, Budwey coaxes Pelletier into letting him get his hands on those breathtaking nipples. Having never kissed a man, Budway is clumsy but eager to press his mouth against his buddy's sensual lips. Then it happens, Pelletier shows him the prize he keeps wrapped in his worn undergarment. And even though he's facing upstage, we get a generous view of his heavy testicles and the downy, ginger hair that curls into the voluptuous canyon on his backside.

But this marvelous, laugh out-loud comedy suffers from misdirection. It starts out with all of the right elements, sure these men are playing types, but letting the performances fall into caricature is a mistake. For instance, why does a guy from Connecticut need an English accent? Sure he's privileged, but we know that from the things he says. It doesn't need to be indicated to us through a false dialect. And the culminating sex act is almost apologetic, saying, "We're just being funny. There is nothing true in this experience."

During intermission the Stage Manager guides the audience toward the restrooms in case they need "to relieve themselves." But it is after the final short play of this series that the audience really needs those facilities. In "Laissez Les Bon Temps Roullez," by Rick Park, our libidos are finally stirred into an aching frenzy. Julia Bailey plays a woman on the cusp of her wedding. Here the actress shows the abundant talent she alluded to earlier in the provocative but brisk play "The Romantic," by Silvia Graziano.

When her hunky fiancť (Pelletier) catches her bare-breasted in the arms of a lesbian friend he goes through a drunken catharsis that leads him to removing every stitch of his clothing. In the end, the audience hungers to take the place of Jillian Barry and Zach Winston, if you follow my drift, depending on what you're into. Like Coleman in "60 Shades of Hay," Bailey doesn't over play her part. And it is when showing us what's true about our sexual experiences that these performances are truly sexy.

The experimental theatre has come a long way since Julian Beck and Judith Malina were hauled into jail for indecent exposure during The Living Theatre's performance of "Paradise Now." "Heart & Dagger's Annual Sex Fest" is sure to be a long-running tradition that fills every seat in the house, because once an audience has seen this event, sometimes ribald and randy, sometimes poignant and provocative, the only thing the patrons can think about is packing seats and having their own seats packed.

Such Times: The 1st Annual Sex Fest runs through March 9, 2013 at the Boston Playwrights' Theater, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA.