nytheatre.com review by Melanie N. Lee
August 12, 2011
As a college writing tutor, I work safely in an office, never entering the family life of my clientele. Not so with Meredith, the lead character of The Tutor, written by Kate Mulley and directed by Ben Gougeon and Doug Spagnola.
A Yale Law graduate who never took the bar, Meredith, age 27, is a cool, polished, and "hot" professional without a profession. She earns her living two ways: as a respectable SAT tutor to high school kids in their homes, and as a sultry saleswoman of worn lingerie—worn by her, that is—over the privacy of her personal computer. The wide screen center stage shows her enlarged image as she, as her alter ego "Cassandra" in bra and open bathrobe, intimates into her video blog. As herself, Meredith shares Skype chats with Josh, her very busy lawyer fiancé. She won't wear an engagement ring because she doesn't want to feel possessed.
The wide screen shows overlaps of messages: Meredith arranging tutoring sessions and dates with Josh, Cassandra receiving underwear orders and receiving messages like "You are a slut. Get self-respect," which she promptly deletes. Also overlapping: the screen shows not just SAT multiple-choice test questions, which go unanswered, but alternating quotes from the novels Pride and Prejudice, about the social mores of courtship, and The Master and Margarita, a story-within-a-story. Gradually, Meredith's two lives begin to overlap as well. Her sixteen-year-old client, Greg Jameson, a shy soccer player, sneaks beers from the fridge for them to share during tutoring sessions, and he develops a crush on her. As the sexual tension builds and Meredith's behavior becomes more questionable and Greg's more frantic, we see someone sneak a hot pink thong from a pocket and take a sniff...
Most of The Tutor is performed in a quiet, subdued manner, with the sexual tension bubbling underneath, rising slowly until it boils over into turmoil. The play is overall entertaining and provocative enough, and has its engrossing moments. The actors give good performances all around: Olivia Galliant as the young woman whose two lives may belie a resistance to fitting into conventional young adulthood; Ian Way as the boy who uses Meredith as a social or romantic crutch; Valerie Lonigro as Sandra, the concerned mother who confides to Meredith her dissatisfaction with her marriage (and who is prettier than the actresses usually cast in this kind of role); Bradford Cover as Jake, the father with ambitions for his son and needs of his own; and Valance Thomas as Josh, the too-distant fiancé (who is using too low a speaking voice on stage).
Theater, a millennia-old medium, has the challenge of presenting our 21st-century technological world on stage, and The Tutor handles this brilliantly. Although we human beings have had our secrets and shames since time immemorial, this production deftly incorporates the PC, Skype, IMs, and how they have impacted our behavior. A couple of technical glitches showed some widescreen images a minute too soon, but this wasn't a major mishap. Graphic designer Faith Crawford, projection designer Ben Gougeon, and scenic designers Gougeon and Doug Spagnola deserve credit for blending technology with the storytelling.
Overall, The Tutor shows us how technology tempts us to expose more than we might have dared, and how sexual frustration taints our lives.