Honest Pint Theatre Company normally does a terrific job telling interesting stories to theatergoers across the Triangle. This troupe of talented actors and directors does not shy away from edgy stories with interesting morals or themes. For this reason, I look forward to their productions. Unfortunately, their current offering, The Mystery of Love & Sex by Bathsheba Doran, is a disappointing maelstrom of characters and conflict that simply tries to tackle too much.
The story centers on the lifelong relationship between Charlotte (Chloe Oliver), a white, Jewish girl, and Jonny (Chris Helton), an African-American Baptist, who have been best friends since childhood and who are now off to college together. We learn that Jonny is saving himself for marriage, because of his religious beliefs. When Charlotte’s parents, Howard (Mark Filiaci) and Lucinda (Susannah Hough), visit them at school, Charlotte tells her parents that she loves Jonny and thinks they are moving past being friends.
Her father, however, tells her that he is against an interracial relationship and disapproves. After the parents’ departure, a drunk Charlotte tries to convince Jonny to have sex with her against his wishes, and in the same breath admits to him that she has a crush on a girl. This is the first of many head-scratchers throughout the play that made me wonder where we were headed.
The set was also confusing. Gauzy white material surrounded a large elm tree, sitting in the back of center stage. The tree had a tire swing that suggested lazy summers, but it was never used. The suggestion of a bed was at the left. Was this the haze of memory?
In the opening scene, the characters appeared to be hosting a picnic, until we learned that they were actually in the dorm room, sitting on the floor, because they had no table. All of the action takes place with the tree suggesting outside, but all of the action was apparently inside. It was confusing.
The story was also puzzling. When Jonny starts dating Monique, Charlotte starts drinking heavily; and after an embarrassing drunken moment, Jonny breaks off their friendship completely. We believe Charlotte became an alcoholic from grief, until we learn that she has a new girlfriend. Jonny is supposed to be an awkward, socially inept introvert, but his buff body and snappy dress do not correlate with this persona.
When Charlotte’s parents think that the loss of Jonny is causing her alcoholic binges, Howard tells Jonny that he has “seen him with Monique and he obviously doesn’t love her” and should date Charlotte, in an instant changing his stance on interracial relationships completely and showing an appalling arrogance about Jonny’s personal relationship.
Thereafter, it felt like the playwright was trying to squeeze in every theme possible in the span of two hours. Jewish identity? Check. Sexual repression? Check. Christianity? Check. Homosexuality? Gay marriage? Check. Parental boundaries? Check. Mid-life crisis? Check. Racism? Check. Alcoholism? Check. Drug use? Check.
But the playwright Bathsheba Doran’s characters are so lacking in social graces that every scene is either a fight or cringeworthy exchange. For instance, Jewish writer Howard asks Jonny over dinner who had it worse, Jews or African-Americans? Slave ships or Nazis. Hardly dinner fare.
Perhaps, all of these characters are supposed to be conflicted, socially inept people; but I think their dialogue seemed forced, because they did not have the easy relationship that one would expect from life-long friends and family.
In addition, it feels that drama is forced upon them. An embarrassing drunken moment leads Jonny to completely banish Charlotte from his life. When Jonny writes a thesis about Howard’s writing being racist, Charlotte cuts Jonny out of her life. As for the other characters, there is a lot of bickering and no decorum to be found.
Thereafter, to add to the chaos, no one is as they seem. Each character goes through a dizzying change from the start of the story to the finish. By the time that we learn that the mother is smoking pot and has taken a lover, I gave up hope of the play having a meaningful discussion about any one topic.
To be fair, the storyline is not the fault of the actors, and they did their best with the material. Susannah Hough’s Lucinda was a breath of fresh air. She was very believable as the peace maker and mother, a woman who has reached a certain understanding about life and love that she tries to share with her confused daughter.
In the end, unfortunately, Honest Print’s The Mystery of Love and Sex at NRACT did not help the audience unravel the mysteries of love and sex.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 2nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article182420751.html and Sept. 29th mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article176145851.html; and Oct. 25th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-mystery-of-love-and-sex/Event?oid=8869234.
(Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 2nd Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/11/bathsheba-dorans-the-mystery-of-love-and-sex-is-a-tender-humorous-surprisingly-deep-story/.)
Honest Pint Theatre Company presents THE MYSTERY OF LOVE & SEX at 8 p.m. Nov. 3 and 4, 3 p.m. Nov. 5, 8 p.m. Nov. 10 and 11, and 3 p.m. Nov. 12 at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $17 ($14 students, seniors, teachers, and active-duty military personnel).
The Mystery of Love & Sex (2015 dramatic comedy): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/58645/mystery-of-love-sex-the (Samuel French, Inc.) and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/5860 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
Bathsheba Doran (New York City playwright and screenwriter): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/33514 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1096313/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bathsheba_Doran (Wikipedia).
Dana Marks (Durham, NC director and managing director of Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern): http://littlegreenpig.com/dana-marks.html (Little Green Pig bio) and https://www.facebook.com/dana.marks.5 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.