Intimacy, A Man’s a Man and Almost, Maine

Intimacy is a mess and A Man’s a Man is a bore, but Almost, Maine at least has as a great cast.
February 13, 2014

Kevin Isola and John Cariani in Almost, Maine

Intimacy: 1/5 Stars 
A Man’s a Man: 2/5 Stars 
Almost, Maine: 2.5/5 Stars

More provocateur than playwright, Thomas Bradshaw has brought the new play Intimacy to The New Group, and it’s a vile piece of claptrap that’s as tasteless as it is banal. Directed with a leaden hand by Scott Elliott (who also directed Bradshaw’s revolting play, Burning, in 2011), Intimacy is a mind-numbing look at dysfunctional suburbanites who end up making a neighborhood porn film together. One assumes Bradshaw is trying to say something about pornography and the hypocrisy of America’s puritan attitude toward sex. But the problem is that he’s a lousy writer who resorts to shocking his audience with sensational “stage business” instead of giving us thought-provoking three-dimensional characters and authentic dialogue. Of course, it doesn’t help that Elliott has directed the game (and brave!) cast to speak and act like performers in a 1970s porn movie.

As with Bradshaw’s previous work there’s lots of nudity and simulated sex. But in Intimacy the audience is also subjected to an actor sitting on a toilet having a noisy bowel movement, as well as full-frontal erections, copious masturbation and frottage scenes that include ejaculations of almond-milk to simulate semen. If Tony Kushner had written it, then all the onstage antics might have added up to something provocative and enlightening. But as Bradshaw has written it and Elliott directed it, Intimacy is an embarrassing bore.

One has to wonder what possessed Classic Stage Company to produce A Man’s a Man, Bertolt Brecht’s 1925 meditation on the mutability of identity in wartime. Director Brian Kulick has a lot of clever ideas for staging the story of Galy Gay, an Irish dock porter who is systematically transformed into a model soldier and dehumanized in the process, and composer Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) has written a handful of zesty tunes to accompany them. But despite a hard-working cast and an exotic setting of British Colonial India, this revival of A Man’s a Man is a bit lackluster.

CSC has gone out on a limb casting Justin Vivian Bond in a pivotal supporting role as the Widow Begbick (a role that won Olympia Dukakis an Obie in a 1962 revival). As one would expect, Bond (of “Kiki & Herb” fame) handles the songs with panache but v (Bond’s chosen pronoun) is less comfortable with the acting component of the role, often fumbling lines and appearing slightly flummoxed. There’s solid work, however, from Gibson Frazier as Gay and Jason Babinsky, Steven Skybel and Martin Moran as the soldiers who transform him into a soulless fighting machine.

It’s a testament to the skills of the cast that Almost, Maine is entertaining because none of its charm can be attributed to John Cariani’s cloying and sticky-sweet script. First seen in 2006 at the Daryl Roth Theater where it played for a month and received very mixed reviews, Almost, Maine is comprised of a dozen vignettes about relationships all set in—you guessed it—that wacky state of Maine. In its defense, and somewhat incredibly, over the last eight years Almost, Maine has become one of the most produced plays in the land, as well as being translated into multiple languages and performed in 15 additional countries. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get a cavity watching it. Playwright Cariani takes metaphor to the extreme in Maine so that when people fall in love, they literally fall down. And when an arguing couple is waiting for the other shoe to drop, a shoe literally falls from the sky. You get the idea. But major kudos to the hilarious cast. The gifted Donna Lynne Champlin, the sincere Kevin Isola and the winning Kelly McAndrew almost overcome all the sweetness in Cariani’s well-meaning script.

Intimacy plays through March 8 at The New Group @ Theater Row (410 W 42nd St, A Man’s A Man plays through February 16 at Classic Stage Company (136 E 13th St, Almost, Maine plays through March 2 at the Gym at Judson (243 Thompson St @ W Fourth St,