Review: New Comedy Looks at "Sex Work/Sex Play" and the Spectrum Between Them

Sex Work/Sex Play

Written by Caytha Jentis

Directed by Rosie Gunther

Presented by Emerging Artists Theatre at the 28th Street Theatre

15 W. 28th St., 2nd Fl., Manhattan, NYC

September 4-October 29, 2023

Sex Work/Sex Play – Constance Zaytoun and Amber Gatlin. Photo by Richard Rivera.
When it comes to sex, most people probably have experiences, desires, habits, frustrations, and so on that they do not share readily or at all (inhibitions no doubt shaped by our puritanical, heteropatriarchal culture). At the start of Sex Work/Sex Play, from playwright Caytha Jentis, each of the characters is keeping at least one such secret, leading to comic collisions that upend a status quo that is less than ideal for most of them. Sex Work/Sex Play is making its world premiere in repertory with two further world premiere productions–solo show Anne Being Frank and Doris Day: My Secret Love, a play with music–and it also features four special performances, with the September 22nd performance followed by a singles night sponsored by Tawkify and talkbacks with sex therapist Sari Cooper, sex researcher and NYU professor Dr. Zhana, and sex worker and activist Kaytlin Bailey on September 23rd, September 27th, and October 4th, respectively.
Sex Work/Sex Play - Josh Hyman, Constance Zaytoun, Christopher Trindade. Photo by Richard Rivera.
Sex Work/Sex Play unfolds almost exclusively in a Brooklyn apartment appointed in tasteful browns, creams, and beiges and occupied by divorced woman and insurance marketer Alex (Constance Zaytoun) and her Ivy League college student daughter, Cassidy (Amber Gatlin), who makes additional income through sugar dating. One of Cassidy's dates, Dave (Josh Hyman), who is not only substantially older than Cassidy but also has crossed paths with Alex before, has a relationship to porn that he insists is not an addiction as well as a deep fear that he can no longer perform sexually. Meanwhile, another mother (Kerry McGann), who hasn't achieved the body image acceptance that her therapist advocates and avers that the erotic relationship in her life these days is with Oreos rather than her husband, adopts the online persona of "Cookie" to being to interact with the OnlyFans account of JRod (Christopher Trindade), whose handle refers to his ample endowment but who is much more multifaceted than his online performances at first suggest. As these characters' trajectories intersect–producing no shortage of witty asides and comic twists and turns on the one hand and moments of openness and self-reflection on the other–some will have their bonds, perceptions, and preconceptions tested. Will they emerge not only changed but changed for the better?
Sex Work/Sex Play - Kerry McGann. Photo by Richard Rivera.
On the way to answering that question, the play raises questions of relative place and value of meaningful and meaningless sex; whether love is indeed, as one character says, like oxygen or doesn't even actually exist; and whether, if it does exist, rom-com-style love is real and/or possible (playwright Jentis's first feature film screenplay was itself the 2007 romantic comedy And Then Came Love). Interwoven with and in connection to such questions, the play addresses experiences of work, aging, loneliness (Dave's explanation of how he has friends from work and family activities but not many actually intimate friends must surely resonate widely in our fragmented, work-obsessed culture), the personal and familial fallout of divorce, generational gaps in sexual and feminist ideologies, and the impact of media on our pursuit of ever-elusive happiness and connection. Zaytoun invests Alex with a relatable mix of wry world weariness, resolve, and, by the character's own admission, poor impulse control; Gatlin skillfully conveys Cassidy's increasing depth over the course of the play and following a first impression of someone merely using buzzwords for self-justification; and when Trindade is not being terrifically, unwaveringly hilarious, he nails JRod's moments of pathos. Among the play's characters, "Nobody tells the truth" becomes a motif, but Sex Work/Sex Play contains at least a few.

-John R. Ziegler

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