by: JK Clarke
It might be time to re-consider the label “Sexual Revolution” that has been commonly applied to the US in the 1960s. More appropriate would be the appellation “Sexual Awakening.” The real “sexual revolution” may very well be occurring now, or within the last five to ten years. Despite ongoing discrimination, awareness of homesexuality, transgenderism and alternate sexual lifestyles has escalated significantly. A larger than ever percentage of people in America no longer flinch when they hear discussions of non-normative relationships that include polyamory and non-monogamy, regardless of whether they approve or not. The Goddess, which has just had its world premiere at the Richmond Shepard Theater and continues its run through November 3, takes up the discussion of a couple embarking on an open relationship and all its inherent problems.
By all accounts, Emma (Tricia Alexandro) and Mike (Richard Busser) are a tremendously happy couple: in love and confident in each other’s love, successful in their individual careers and very content with where they are in their lives. Except – with Emma something is a tiny bit awry. A strong-willed, independent, fiercely ethical corporate attorney, she misses the the part of her single life when she could come and go as she pleased. Being tethered to one person feels unnatural to her, and now, despite her contentment, she finds herself living the sort of life she’d sworn she’d never have. Whilst on vacation at the beach, she notices Mike quietly lusting over a beautiful girl lying nearby. The moment stirs something within her: the urging voice of the Goddess Venus (cleverly played by a sultry and tantalizing Claudia Mason) inside her—Emma’s alter-ego, if you will.
Emma’s internal dialogs with her Goddess are rather explicit:
Goddess [after several iterations of the same exclamation]: He wants to f . . k her. Say it.
Emma: He wants to f . . k her. He wants to rip off her bikini and put his penis in her vagina. He wants to f . . k her.
And the discussions get even more intense and sexually charged from there, with the Goddess finally succeeding in convincing Emma to suggest an open relationship to Mike, who bristles at the idea at first, then finally succumbs to her prodding (no pun intended) after lengthy discussions and arguments. And, thus, Mike and Emma begin a non-monogamous lifestyle.
But, of course, not is all well (this being theater). Emma uses her freedom to travel more and have the occasional fling. She voyages overseas so often she is rarely home. And Mike begins living the life of a supremely eligible bachelor, bedding sexy woman after sexy woman (all played by Sarah Nedwek, who manages to nicely embody each different type of sexy girl Mike takes home). While the experience initially enhances their own sex life through the ecstasy of taboo and exploring the forbidden, an imbalance begins to show. Emma experiences unexpected jealousy, finds herself competing with Mike for sheer volume of partners, and generally finds herself estranged from him. Meanwhile, The Goddess is somewhat absent.
Written by husband and wife team Justine Lambert and Kenneth Nowell, at first blush The Goddess feels like it may be a piece designed to promote and explain open relationships. But, they stop well short of that and subvert many of the traditional paradigms surrounding open relationships. Generally in open relationships—as in traditional dating—the women have significantly more opportunities for multiple partners than the men; but here, that’s turned around. Furthermore, this couple’s openness is not a pathway to other lifestyles, such as fetish or kink. Emma tells Mike: “I don’t want this to turn into a bad Lifetime movie about swingers where everybody’s constantly mixing martinis and making passive aggressive snipes because they’re jealous.” So despite the promotion of openness, there’s still some apparent prejudice toward other lifestyles.
The couple’s biggest hurdle is a lack of structure and rules. As experts in these types of relationships (and others, like sex columnist Dan Savage) will avow, a couple considering an open relationship must first lay down ground rules, then stick to them religiously. Emma and Mike, naively do not, and suffer the consequences. The Goddess is both advocate for open relationships and provides a cautionary tale of the potential pitfalls.
The play is fast moving, often erotically charged and thought provoking. Tricia Alexandro’s Emma is wisely played as a strong yet sexy, deeply reflective feminist, which makes her all the more plausible. It is a novel and daring play that may offend some, but more than likely will allow others to contemplate relationships in a more nuanced and reasonable, non-traditional manner.
“What is love, anyway?” asks Howard Jones in the shmaltzy 80s new wave hit. And that’s really the heart of the matter here. When all is said and done, the experiment isn’t a total failure and Mike and Emma are together and still love each other completely, perhaps even more than at the outset. And that sneaky little Goddess is, of course, lurking very close at hand.
*Photos: Michael Priest
The Goddess. Through November 3 at the Richmond Shepard Theatre (309 East 26th Street at Second Avenue).www.lookingglasstheatrenyc.com