The Mystery Of Love & Sex


Review by Mavis Manus

The nuclear 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 NYC’s 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).

photo: Craig Schwartz

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: she’s white of course, a small, fiercely intelligent, atheistic girl; he’s 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.

Against all 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 Howard’s novels in a critical essay, accusing him of racism and homophobia. Howard, a staunch leftist who has always treated Jonny like a son–and hoped he would even marry Charlotte–is enraged by this accusation, this betrayal, and ends up taking a swing at him.

photo: Craig Schwartz

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. Doran’s 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.

Doran’s tricky text, one minute dark, the next light, is handled deftly by MYSTERY’S accomplished cast and director, Robert Egan.

(Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call 213-972-4400 or visit