family is dissected tenderly, skillfully and sometimes hilariously in
THE MYSTERY OF LOVE & SEX by Bathsheba Doran, now in its West Coast
premiere at the Mark Taper Forum.
Originally produced by NYCs Lincoln Center Theater in 2015, the
play is set in major cities in the American South and covers
five years in the lives of its four main characters. Lucinda (Sharon Lawrence)
and Howard (David Pittu) are married (tenuously, we soon learn) and have
a daughter, Charlotte (Mae Whitman), whose best friend, since childhood,
is Jonny (York Walker).
Howard is an ex-New Yorker and Jewish, a writer of detective novels. Lucinda
is a beautiful southern WASP who converted, uneasily, to Judaism in order
to marry Howard. Charlotte and Jonny, college students when the play begins,
have an equally complex relationship: shes white of course, a small,
fiercely intelligent, atheistic girl; hes tall, black and deeply
religious. What force holds these two opposites together?
The same question can be asked of Howard and Lucinda, two incompatible
souls who never should have dated, much less gotten hitched.
odds, the characters in THE MYSTERY OF LOVE & SEX battle ferociously
over the next five years to stay together. The love they feel for each
other is continually tested by sexual, political, religious and racial
issues. Charlotte and Jonny, for example, both come out as gay. Jonny
also becomes a writer who takes apart Howards novels in a critical
essay, accusing him of racism and homophobia. Howard, a staunch leftist
who has always treated Jonny like a sonand hoped he would even marry
Charlotteis enraged by this accusation, this betrayal, and ends
up taking a swing at him.
The action in MYSTERY unfolds swiftly and artfully, in a series of dramatic
confrontation scenes and character revelations which Doran spices up with
generous sprinklings of humor. Dorans real gift, though, lies in
the way she can write about these screwed-up people without turning them
into caricatures. Lucinda, Howard, Charlotte and Jonny may hurt each other,
drink and dope too much, make all kinds of ridiculous mistakes in life,
but their essential humanity and, yes, goodness, keep shining through.
Dorans tricky text, one minute dark, the next light, is handled
deftly by MYSTERYS accomplished cast and director, Robert Egan.
(Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call 213-972-4400 or visit centertheatregroup.org)