Open: 08/25/10- Close: 08/27/10
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Heather Violanti
The Sessions, Nisha Beech’s brisk new play about four couples at a sexual crossroads, is a 21st century La Ronde of sorts. Like Schnitzler’s turn of the 20th century play, it’s structured as a series of duologues, intimate encounters between two people whose relationships are at a turning point. Schnitzler’s scenes were linked by character —someone from each scene appeared again the next, coupling with another partner, forming a sexual daisy chain. The Sessions is not quite so complex, but everyone is still linked, this time through a radio show. They all listen to a sex advice show called “The Love Doctor,” and their frantic calls precede each scene.
It’s a clever, if perhaps predictable device—one that establishes the groundwork of the intimate conflict to follow. In Session 1, Jane (Jenelle Chu) and John (Donaldo Prescod) debate their commitment to each other when a ménage a trios does not go as planned. In Session 2, David (Gil Charleston) wants more than sex from Michael (Michael Whitelaw), but Michael doesn’t want to come out of the closet. In Session 3, bubbly Ashley (Michelle Ellen Ayala) finally thinks she’s found her man in the affectionate but neurotic Daniel (Jarrod Luke), but neither is sure they can get over their respective issues. Ayala is self-conscious about her weight; Daniel is obsessive-compulsive. Finally, in Session 4, a middle-aged couple, Mary (Steph Van Vlack) and Joseph (David C. Neal) experiment with S&M, only things go terribly wrong.
Similar characters and situations have been dramatized elsewhere, but Beech gives them her own particular stamp. Each scene is credible, if not equally compelling. The couples in Sessions 2 and 3 are particularly well-defined; those in 1 and 4 less so. Still, the characters are distinctly drawn and the actors are passionately committed to their challenging roles. Gil Charleston stands out as David, the gay man who decides he’s finally going to come out to the world, while Michelle Ellen Ayala and Jarrod Luke shine as the seriocomic Ashley and Daniel. Director Khary Wilson makes ingenious use of the small playing space, orchestrating the scenes with fluid precision, and sustaining the momentum throughout.
Building a play around a series of sexual encounters is not new, but in The Sessions, Nisha Beech presents four modern variations on a familiar theme.
Manhattan Repertory Theatre : 303 West 42nd Street