nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
October 14, 2006
The simple brilliance of the new play Makeout Session, by Kenan Minkoff, lies within the universal appeal of the story—the first love. Despite the fact that a good number of those relationships are doomed from the start, the first-time lovers willingly fall hard and fast for one another, regardless of the outcome. Makeout Session perfectly encapsulates the tone and nervousness of high school hormones in Act I, and the evolution of those teenagers into twentysomethings in Act II. With exceptional direction from Matt Cowart, terrific production values and a winning cast, the show is worth falling for in a high-school heartbeat.
Makeout Session begins in 1987, when Boy (Andrew Pastides) and Girl (Adrian Wyatt) are left home alone at Boy's house for the day. Dressed in brilliantly accurate costumes (by Elisa Richards), the two characters passionately kiss each other as if the Montagues and Capulets were pounding on the doors. But if perchance there's anyone reading this that doesn't quite remember how terrifyingly exciting that time was, Pastides's and Wyatt's phenomenal characterizations will bring you back immediately to sophomore year of high school. Both actors absolutely nail the fragility, passion, and innocence of that time in a young person's life, and how romance is a life-and-death struggle at that juncture.
Minkoff has a gift of dramatizing adolescent minutiae, as a bit about the texture of flavored-Chapstick on the Boy's lips will attest. It is a schadenfreude-laden joy to watch the Boy try to get to "second base" and getting deflected by a swat on the wrist by the Girl. The characters don't have much of value to say to one another, but Minkoff has accurately nailed high school dialogue (unlike, say, Dawson's Creek) and Cowart's direction allows the natural chemistry between Pastides and Wyatt to sparkle.
The push and pull of adolescent lust is palpable to the audience, which is important because they are going to see Boy and Girl make out no less than 27 times in Act I, mostly to the Beatles (perfectly high school). They debate about going into the parents' bedroom, about kissing standing up, about pulling out the bed from the couch; and they talk about their dreams—it's as if Minkoff has been secretly recording makeout sessions in finished suburban basements throughout America, it's that dead-on. But something goes wrong—the couple tries to get past it, and without spoiling the drama, it is disturbing, and quite the mood-killer.
Flash forward to 1997, and the set transforms into what looks like a studio apartment from an episode of Friends. Boy is rustling around frantically trying to clean up. Girl enters from having just taken a shower. It appears that some kind of romantic reunion has occurred, either the previous evening or ten minutes ago. The dialogue between the couple is now far more jaded, particularly from Girl's point-of-view. Wyatt's terrific portrayal of Girl in her 20s feels shocking because she has gone from receptive and optimistic to guarded and tough, while Pastides's Boy retains some kind of positive outlook. The characters, via Cowart's direction, evolve interestingly, as they each reveal strips of information about their past ten years as high-school lovers turned into ex-boy/girlfriends. They reveal to each other, as only once-and-former lovers can, the things that they always meant to say, or things that they wish they had said. There was an incident that happened between them that broke Girl's heart, though exactly what that was appears deliberately unclear, so as to let the audience speculate themselves. The script stumbles a bit when the Boy character confesses to a self-imposed bout of celibacy that seems unrealistic, but Pastides plays it well.
The strength of the actors in this piece cannot be overstated. Wyatt is theatrical dynamite on stage—she plays Girl as coquettish and alluring in the first act and shows depth and range with how life experience has changed Girl in the second act. Pastides shows us raw emotion and adolescent angst in the first half, and warm affection and disillusionment in the second half. Cowart allows these two actors to completely inhabit and breathe life into Minkoff's world and the result is terrific work from everyone concerned.