Review: Hilarious "Bedtime Plays" Talk About All the Good Things and the Bad Things that May Be
Everything We Need to Talk About Before We Talk About Sex
Written by Tatiana Kouguell-Hoell and directed by Rakesh Palisetty
Written by Ciara Ní Chuirc and directed by Kelly O'Donnell
Presented at The Tank, 312 W. 36th St., Manhattan, NYC
August 22, 2019
Considering that there are entire industries dedicated to sex advice, it seems safe to say that most people have at one time or another felt embarassed about saying or doing something in the bedroom. Bedtime Plays, part of the third annual LadyFest, featuring new work by woman-identified artists at The Tank through August 28th, brings together two very entertaining short plays by playwrights in the Columbia MFA program about couples with communication issues when it comes to sex. The plays, Everything We Need to Talk About Before We Talk About Sex and Teeth (not, to be clear, a reference to the 2007 film of the same name), not only complement each other well thematically but also both make their deeper points with a similarly light touch and are laugh-out-loud funny, thanks in no small part to excellent performances.
When we first see Sara (Anne Guadagnino) in Tatiana Kouguell-Hoell's Everything We Need to Talk About Before We Talk About Sex, she is in Tommy's (Julian Abelskamp) apartment for the first time, flipping through a book, but it soon becomes clear that her interest is in avoidance or deflection rather than the contents of the tome. In short order, we learn that she is worried about whether it would be gross to take her damp socks off, as well as that she is a virgin. In an effective device, Sara blurts out her thoughts in asides that give the audience access to her interior monologue as we come to know that she wants to be intimate with Tommy but there are past romantic and family experiences the marks of which on her psyche and body stand as obstacles to that desire. Meanwhile, Tommy and Sara play Truth or...Truth, trading those getting-to-know-you questions about pet peeves and such. Sara's hilariously unprompted escalation does lead Tommy to talk about his own traumatic experience of falling in love while he was with someone else, raising the question for Tommy and Sara (and the audience) of whether love can truly spring from a mere gesture, movement, or moment. Sara also ups the stakes by suggesting—and instantly regretting—what we'll call Strip Truth (think: a piece of clothing for each secret), in which the stripping away of layers works symbolically as well. The actors create some moments of exquisite awkwardness and charged expectancy during all of this. Guadagnino brings a great, infectious energy to Sara, nimbly modulating between comedy and pathos, and Abelskamp's centered and respectful Tommy is easy to see as someone that Sara might just be able to open up to.
Between plays, the audience was treated to an original song accompanied by ukulele that deconstructs the mythologizing of tragic romance of the Eurydice and Juliet variety and endorses dying of old age together as the most romantic option for any two lovers—a very fun way to spend the time during the set change. After this came Ciara Ní Chuirc's Teeth, which opens with Colleen (Clare O'Malley) and Aaron (Rolando Chusan), a more established couple than in Every We Need to Talk About, in their underthings, he in bed, she at her toilette, visually suggesting the gap in communication that Aaron feels it necessary to try to bridge. Aaron wants to know what Colleen likes in bed, but she argues that feeling awkard talking about sex is a perfectly good reason to continue not to talk about it. She later adds that not wanting to talk about sex doesn't mean that she doesn't like it, and despite her strong resistance to Aaron's verbal prodding, she does at one point employ some un-sexy analogies to begin to hint that some of the letters in BDSM do in fact interest her (and we do see them do a tiny bit of role playing). Aaron is somewhat more successful when he switches tactics and asks her to specify one thing that she doesn't like. It turns out that he does sort of like what she names as her dislike, leading to a hilarious stretch of conversation. Whether Colleen and Aaron are flirting with or exasperating one another, or anything in between, O'Malley and Chusan are, again, fantastic, creating well-realized characters whose disagreement seems a sign of their relationship's health rather than dysfunction. The play's final joke not only works on multiple levels but also manages simultaneously to be completely surprising and to flow directly from what has come before.
Everything We Need to Talk About Before We Talk About Sex and Teeth both explore, from different angles and in couples at different stages, the complications and anxieties of physical intimacy, and are very, very funny while they do it. With snappy direction, witty writing, and outstanding performances, these Bedtime Plays do anything but put you to sleep.
-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards