The Foreplay Play
nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
April 19, 2012
Mariah MacCarthy, the playwright of The Foreplay Play, notes in the program that a friend once said to her, “Well, people think that if group sex is awkward, you’re doing it wrong. The truth is, group sex is always awkward.” Caps Lock Theatre, in their inaugural production, and MacCarthy’s play, which originated as a 20-minute piece and has been expanded into a 75-minute dark comedy, despite a few flaws, manage to capture a ton of that awkwardness and thoughtfully question the boundaries of love and possessiveness in relationships.
The Foreplay Play is set in a Brooklyn apartment, literally. A small audience of 25 cozily squeeze into a real apartment just off the Graham L-train subway stop, where they witness, mostly in realtime, a lesbian couple and a straight couple trying to navigate their relationships and the limitations of their openness on the way to having a foursome. The couples seem to have come together after an initial attraction between Ani, who brings along her boyfriend Kyle, and Isabel, who lives with her girlfriend Kelly, at their mutual workplace. What seems like a potential heavenly and adventurous evening of sex descends ever deeper through the circles of relationship hell throughout the night, as each of the four realizes that they may not be as open to seeing their lover with another person as they thought they would be. Before the rendezvous is over, the relationships are shaken to the core and deep cracks have been exposed that may never be covered up again.
MacCarthy does a nice job of unearthing the awkward pairings of her characters, and finding the emotional sweet spot that pushes each one to the brink—causing them to question their partner—and she gives each of the four characters their due in this respect. She’s imbued her dialogue with a nice conservational tone, which is paced nicely by director Leta Tremblay, that works well for the informal, environmental apartment setting. It is a credit to her writing and her cast's ease with its tone and voice that there are many moments in the play that have such a nice natural humor and spontaneity to them that it’s hard to tell if the actors are ad-libbing or if it’s actually scripted.
The four characters teeter back and forth between clashing and coming together extremely well, revealing each others’ strengths and their breaking points. MacCarthy creates a nice sense that they are pushing each other’s buttons, usually without ever meaning to. Nic Grelli’s soft-spoken Kyle is a lovely blend of a quiet fun-loving charisma and deep vulnerability and insecurity, while Lindsey Austen as Ani walks a fine line between being the most enthusiastic about the evening while being the most uptight. Her hilarious but sad descent through the evening is impressive and heart-wrenching. Diana Oh plays her role (Isabel) as the consummate good host, trying to keep the warring personalities together, while letting on that—just under the surface—she may be the most unstable of them all. And Parker Leventer does a nice job of keeping Kelly human and sympathetic, despite the fact that MacCarthy does her no favors in this department as Kelly is the root of most of the most egregious offenses of the night.
The script does such a nice job of exploring its themes and managing the flips between light and heavy moments that this actually stands out as one of its few missteps. While each character makes mistakes, it seems to be only Kelly’s that are cause for immediately calling the whole thing off. The watcher almost starts trying to anticipate how Kelly will almost screw up the whole thing next, and I think that the current incarnation of the script hangs on Kelly's screw-ups too long—by the time we started heading towards the last one I really questioned why everyone was still sticking to this. The only other slight hiccups result possibly from the limitations of the environmental staging. While the "real apartment" setting works most of the time, there are a few moments where people in the kitchen don’t seem to be able to hear people in the living room, even though they’re both part of the same room (with no divide)—which seems easily fixable with a script or direction tweak. There is also a moment where there seems to be a jump in time when the couples are in the bedroom together which isn’t really clearly illustrated, mostly because it’s tough to illustrate with the limitations of the setting and because the rest of the play is in real time.
However, these few bumps in the road don’t deter from the fact that The Foreplay Play is a fun, awkward ride that really seems to beg the question, “How open can a committed relationship really be?“ Not only does it have a amusing time in debunking the “magical experience” of group sex, but it points out that, try as we might, people can’t help that we are a jealous, flawed species. It’s what makes us human.