There is a wonderful moment of revelation at the opening of the second Act of Kirk Lynn’s new play Your Mother’s Copy of the Kama Sutra. The narrative complexity of the first Act is clarified in a smart and inventive manner, and the interconnectedness of the seemingly disparate characters becomes clearer.
I will not reveal the specifics of the surprise because it is important to preserve one of the play’s few pleasures. Indeed, the opening moments of Act Two bring promising new life to a play that seems stolid and contrived throughout its first half. Sadly, that promise quickly dissipates, and the play drags through a too-long second act to a predictable and unsatisfying conclusion.
The set is purposefully drab and generic: white walls, beige carpet, a few ceiling fans and recessed lighting. It could be the living room of any reasonably priced two- bedroom apartment or townhouse in any metropolitan area. And that seems to be the point: although slight manipulations of mise-en-scene will make the space any number of different locations throughout the play, the implication is that all of the action and people are united by shared struggles, no matter how diverse they may seem.
We first meet Reggie (Chris Stack) as he is blindfolded and teased by his lover Carla (Zoë Sophia Garcia) who moves around the room professing extreme horniness while alluding Reggie’s grasp. Reggie is uncomfortable but willing to be instructed by Carla in what is a new sexual game for him, but not for her. By scene’s end Reggie—still blindfolded—will propose to Carla who accepts on the condition of the play’s master-gimmick: prior to the wedding the two must completely reveal their entire sexual history to each other, and then reenact that history together.
Both have apparently had long sexual histories, and the project predictably provides moments of both revelation and tension. Reggie has one shameful experience in his sexual past that he tries his best to keep buried, but its exposure will test the strength of their commitment to each other only hours before the wedding.A concurrent story-line introduces us to Sean (Maxx Brawer), a shy teenager with a crush on Bernie (Ismenia Mendes), and Sean’s soulless buddy Cole (Will Pullen) who tries to convince Sean that the best way of wooing Bernie is to slip some drugs into her drink at a party. Sean resists, but at the party Cole’s reveals the depths of his sliminess at the cost of both Sean and Bernie.
With dramaturgical inefficiency, Anne Kauffman’s production spends its entire first act creating the problems with which it will wrestle in its second half. This makes the job of relating to any of its characters nearly impossible, as all of their faults and troubles are foregrounded before we have any chance to engage with them as people. Some complexity of character emerges in places during the second Act, but by then it feels as though we are being asked to pity people we have been given little chance even to like. Empathy is strained to the point of breakage.
The one exception in a production full of uneven acting is the second Act performance of Stack. Reggie emerges as the play’s primary focus and the one who displays the widest emotional range between curtains. Although the Reggie of Act One is no more likable than any of his cast mates, Stack shows us a character in Act Two who is compelling in his struggles with unforeseen life changes and daunting challenges. Reggie is the play’s only dynamic character, and Stack embraces his evolution. Mendes is also absorbing and sympathetic as Bernie in her scenes with Stack.
This is a production that asks too much of its audience; making them spend an hour in the company of a group of such eminently unlikable characters, even with the potential of resolution, is too much to take.