… cat’s cradle …

The broad narrow playing space downstairs at the Flea has been painted the
reddish sandy color that says Southwest and there’s a weathered sandstone rock. In this evocative Western scene, a college age foursome traveling together enjoy – not much though, as it turns out – an interlude at the rim of the Grand Canyon.
This is about who loves whom but not a triangle, more of a cat’s cradle. Lexi, a tall girl of Asiatic descent has a volatile elastic body and an aggressive sexuality, directed mainly toward blond, curvy, blue-eyed Jessica. Jessica flirts with Lexi’s sexual advances but is really turned on to Darren, a good looking and relatively well balanced Black guy who’s attracted to Jessica – that sounds promising. Andy, a good-looking though somewhat robotic White guy who’s into Mathematics and hunting is crazy for Lexi – that’s more problematic.

This play’s not misnamed, at least not the sexy part (except for the setting, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly “American” about it). The action is explicit sex talk and clinches, straight and gay.  These characters are constantly leaping – playfully or not – on one another, talking about wanting sex, getting sex, “did you ever do it outside?” sex, “Let’s do it outside” sex, etsexera. One senses that all, except for Darren, are on the brink of hysteria.

The snake in the scenic idyll is Lexi who – gratuitously or jealously? – tells Darren about a woefully shameful episode in Jessie’s past, ruining his idealized view of her and turning him off, sending Jessie to despair. But Lexi, always with her wise to cynical smile, is in despair, too; we don’t know why but it seems somehow right that she turns the man who loves her, Andy, into the instrument of her self-destruction.

At this stage, American Sexy seems more of a sketch than a play, with a tilt toward sensationalism but the playwright has a gift for delineating characters that bring a smile for their familiarity and or writing quick and contemporary dialogue that’s fun to recognize. The acting, by members of The Bats, The Flea’s young resident acting company, is outstanding: intelligent, subtle and dynamic; watching them bring their characters to life is a real pleasure. They miss nothing that the lines can convey. What focus! Satomi Blair plays Lexi, Scott Morse, Andy, Nicky Schmidlein, Jessica and Ron Washington, Darren.

American Sexy plays at The Flea theater in Manhattan’s Tribeca through March 6.