"NOTICE: THIS PLAY CONTAINS NUDITY, SEX & BAD LANGUAGE," says a bold-lettered, red-bordered sign in the box office lobby at Intimacy, the new offering from the New Group at New York City's Acorn Theatre, running through March 8. The language, as it turns out, is not all that out of line by today's standards. But bad playwriting? Yes.
Thomas Bradshaw, whose Burning was presented by this same company in this same space two winters ago, picks up where he left off -- which is to say with sex slathered across the stage. In this case, there are bodily fluids spurting through the air. Yes, bodily fluids. And that's just in the first 20 minutes. One of the teenaged girl actors uses said fluid to help control her acne. There is also a toilet bowl on stage, which gets used. You can only sit there and wonder whether there are limits to what some actors will do to get -- and keep -- a role.
Bradshaw sets his play in a wealthy suburb in what seems to be California. Four horny neighbors live in three houses with three horny teenagers, which provides the author with all sorts of combinations. The plot evolves when the straight-laced father of one of the families discovers photos of the neighbor's daughter in a skin mag. (What was he doing with that magazine, anyway?) His son, who is the most over-exposed character in the play (and I only hope the actor's mother doesn't come see it), decides to direct a porn movie starring the girl and his father, who is suddenly not so straight-laced anymore. The girl's parents, meanwhile, have anal sex while watching their daughter in a porn movie; it's that kind of play. The audience, meanwhile, gets to see the anal sex on a big-screen TV, in full color. Oh, and Bradshaw makes use of Goodnight Moon in a manner that the publishers of that childhood staple would probably not be too happy about.
As for those poor actors, they do what they are told, and I hope they get enough union workweeks for health coverage. The names will be withheld, in hopes that they quickly rebound. There are at least three of them whom I would like to see more of -- that is, less of -- in future dramatic endeavors. We can say that Intimacy is directed by Scott Elliott, who also directed Burning and -- as artistic director of the New Group -- presumably picked this new play on purpose.
There was a time when we used to get plays laced with dirty words, with the authors purposely trying to shake up the audiences to allow their messages to get through; David Mamet did this, and effectively so. Bradshaw does something of the sort with sex acts, rather than cuss words, but from my seat it seems more gratuitous than purposeful. He also throws in a distinct amount of gratuitous bigotry, in a manner hinting that it is not the characters who are bigoted but maybe the author. Or perhaps he has a dramatic purpose, which in this case doesn't reach across the footlights.
Intimacy is the sort of play that could make you nostalgic for simulated sex scenes. Supporters of hard-core porn repeatedly exclaim that if people don't want to see this stuff, no one is forcing them to get a ticket; nobody has to see Intimacy. Expect long-suffering drama critics, that is.