By Marilyn Lester . . .
The Sex and the City franchise has been a cultural phenomenon whose longevity qualifies it for cult following status. It began with Candace Bushnell writing a column for The New York Observer, called “Sex and the City,” based on her own escapades as a young single woman living the high life in New York. That column became a book and then a televisions series of the same name, followed by two films. In between the end of the TV show and now, Bushnell went on to write many more books (all of them New York Times best sellers) and in 2019 published her latest, Is There Still Sex in the City?, the basis for this solo show. Not so incidentally, this stage offering coincides with the debut of a new television series, a “Sex and the City” sequel, also starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon, entitled “And Just Like That.”
Staged at the Off-Broadway Daryl Roth Theatre, this autobiographical romp through Bushnell’s life—all about sex and all about the City, is prime fodder for the niche market it serves. Uptown, theatergoers might explore pressing and serious issues of the day, but here, downtown, Bushnell, who wrote the script, is serving up generous portions of the rarified high life, complete with an in-theater Candi Bar, whipping up Cosmos ($18 each) before and after the show. For “you go, girl” cheerleading, a highly amplified soundtrack plays female power tunes, such as “I’m Every Woman” and “Material Girl.”
On stage a keen appreciation of the Bushnell message is embodied in the set—a luxe New York apartment with clothes rails, cubbies for shoes, Martini glasses, and all the accoutrement a social hipster could desire. True to the spirit of Sex and the City, the shoes—especially those Manolo Blahniks—houses in the Hamptons, rich and powerful men, designer poodles (Bushnell’s two dogs make a brief on-stage appearance) and more (all circling around sex) are the topics that rule. If this variety of privilege seems insensitive, and even if Bushnell tries to convince us her actions are a proactive form of feminism, consider the fan base. There’s a market for those needing aspirational role models, and perhaps just a distraction from a modern world fraught with complication.
Bushnell, now 63, looks just fabulous.More power to her as she comes to the climax (pun intended) of her story arc—getting divorced at age 50 and having to rethink her life as a middle-aged woman. Yet, nothing has really changed except location, from the City to the tony part of Long Island. In this Sex and Sag Harbor phase of life, Bushnell still suffers at the hands of a male-dominated power cabal, even as she strives to promote feminism through dating. And there are the girlfriends, her Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte are right there at the ready to bond and dish with her in this new luxury playground. Fabulosity lives even for women of a certain age.
Inescapably, there is the sense that Is There Still Sex in the City? a mainly a vast marketing effort. But for all the frankness and juicy details of her life, Bushnell’s story isn’t compelling, and for all those fan girls there’s really nothing new to be learned. Nor is Bushnell an actress. She’s animated, but the presentation comes across more as a college lecture than a one-woman theatrical experience. Trimming the script (the show runs 90 minutes) and an infusion of humor would have helped create a more interesting story with less of a synthetic feel, as well as enhanced authenticity. Yes, there are charming moments and fun bits even for the uninitiated, but they’re simply not enough to achieve stage excellence.
Is There Still Sex in the City was directed by Lorin Latarro, who kept the pace moving, mostly by keeping Bushnell in constant motion. Clever costume changes and enhancements featured designs by Lisa Zinni, who captured the Bushnell ethos of herself as a major fashionista. Set design is by Anna Louizos, lighting by Travis McHale and sound design by Sadah Espii.
Is There Still Sex in the City? plays through Through February 6 at the Daryl Roth Theater, 101 E 15th St., New York, NY. Run time is 90 minutes without an intermission.
For tickets and more information, go to darylroththeatre.com or call 800-745-3000.
Photos: Joan Marcus