Review by Beatrice Williams-Rude
A thought-provoking little gem, “Consent,”has opened June 11th at The Black Box Theatre (Harold & Miriam Sternberg Center for Theatre).
The play, by David Rhodes, who also expertly directed, is awash with gay sex, a bit of nudity, some raw language as well as brutality and S&M. But that’s the surface, not the essence.
“Consent,” despite early denials, is really about relationships and the need for a spouse by any name.
The play opens with a sexual encounter, what had started as a casual pickup on a subway platform. The sophisticated architect, Ron, who’s in the midst of a divorce, and a young Yale law student, Kurt, are in bed in the older man’s newly acquired loft. Where the relationship will go becomes the concern—at least for Ron. Newly “out” as gay, and wanting to revel in his new “freedom,” Ron still clings to the familiar domesticity he long enjoyed. He likes to cook, but Kurt couldn’t care less, he just wants raw sex, and trashes the items on Ron’s carefully set table. This is a hint of the power struggle to come.
Although Ron was an athlete, an NFL pro, and is twice Kurt’s size, the younger man is calling the shots. Ron, sensitively drawn by Mark McCullough Thomas, and Kurt, enigmatically and slyly enacted by Michael Goldstein, parry and thrust, with Kurt usually scoring simply by seemingly not caring. (I won’t spoil it for potential theater-goers by revealing why the manipulative Kurt can walk away.)
The two women affected by Ron’s new lifestyle are his soon-to-be ex-wife, Susie, well played by the beautiful Angela Pierce, and Emily, his deeply caring sister, brilliantly and hilariously portrayed by Catherine Curtin.
As Ron proceeds to disintegrate, finding that freedom may not be all it’s cracked up to be, it’s sister Emily to the rescue, Ron having forced Susie out of the picture and really let down a son by not turning up at his high school graduation. Later Ron wants to attempt to make amends by taking his son out to dinner, a small, inadequate gesture but one that indicates his willingness to begin restoring the sense of companionship and closeness which his new gay lifestyle has not so far provided.
This splendid work by David Rhodes has well-crafted characters, snappy to-the-point dialogue, and much humor. Some of the lines are laugh-out-loud hilarious, but always reflect the character. The playwright examines his characters and strips them bare, layer by layer.
When Kurt, about to leave for the West Coast, comes to say good bye to Ron, having entered Ron’s apartment unbidden, the emotional truth, as opposed to the sexual truth, emerges. What each man really wants is the comfort of companionship, someone in whose lap to lay one’s head.
There are spectacular special effects, particularly during the sex scenes. Lighting is key, and kudos to lighting designer John Eckert, and sound designer Chad Raines. The set, wonderfully flexible, is by Scott Tedmon-Jones.
In sum: an intelligent, well-written, probing script; an excellent cast; and dazzling special effects. This is theater! Theater at its best. The playwright, David Rhodes, trusts the members of the audience to form their own opinions about what they’ve witnessed, a daring act given that the characters who participated in the various events don’t agree about what actually transpired. In fact, this might well be the “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” for the 21st century.
A warning for potential ticket buyers: Unless one is tall and/or doesn’t mind not having an armrest, the high chairs at the back of the theater are problematic.
“Consent” will run at The Black Box Theatre, at the Harold & Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 West 46th Street in Manhattan, through June 28.
Photos: Richard Termine