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All This Intimacy

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

"Insensitive poetry professor psychologically destroys his illegitimate children's mothers!"

I have now told you in nine words what Rajiv Joseph needs nearly two hours to say in All This Intimacy. Lest you think I've crafted that sentence to avoid spoiling the finer plot points of Joseph's play at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, I assure you there are no finer plot points.

From the first scene, in which suddenly successful poet Ty (Thomas Sadoski) admits to impregnating three women in one week, through the last, in which he surveys the personal damage he's incurred from his rollicking sexploits, this is a play that wears its plot - like its point - on its sleeve. So seldom does it waver from its established course that, by the time all its goals have sailed into view, over an hour of show still remains.

This bloat is especially puzzling in light of Huck & Holden, Joseph's delightful, economic coming-of-age tale that opened at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre in January. Telling a charming story of interracial romance, and climaxing with a visit from the Hindu goddess Kali, Huck & Holden suggested we'd found in Joseph a young playwright capable of not only sensible, symbolic comedy, but who also knew the difference between just enough and too much.

All This Intimacy, in contrast, drips with excess, in the direction (by Giovanna Sardelli, who also helmed Huck & Holden), in the acting, and especially the writing, which tries to mine from Ty universal lessons about the danger of self-absorption, but ends up feeling like a celebration of his self-indulgence.

We should find nothing likeable about this loathsome linguistic lothario. But as played the shoulder-shrugging, smirk-flashing Sadoski, Ty is determined to make us take the best from his terrible situation. Whether Ty is putting the moves on his girlfriend Jen (Gretchen Egolf), his older married neighbor Maureen (Amy Landecker), or his airheaded student Becca (Krysten Ritter), or sparring with his best friend Seth (Adam Green) or his fiancée Franny (Kate Nowlin), Joseph demands we sympathize - just a bit - with this man who's gone from too few options to too many.

But with nothing inherently likeable about Ty except his purportedly prodigious talent (his first published book of poetry concerned a superhero with the power to create mazes), this gambit prevents us from arriving at any of our own conclusions. Second-act plot developments, ranging from a "chance" meeting of all three mothers-to-be to a devastating twist in Ty and Franny's fractious relationship (go on, guess), seem designed solely to foist as much misery as possible onto these people in the shortest amount of time.

Worse, there's nothing moving or redemptive about Ty's plight; he's an unsavory young man who knowingly causes trouble, gets what he wants - to be rid of it - then complains of its downsides. This is a 15-minute story at most.

True, the breezy second act (which centers primarily on that three-way mother meeting and the resulting complications) is an improvement over the leaden first, the daffy Ritter is good for a few honest laughs, and Landecker has her moments as a past-her-prime woman granted an opportunity for new life.

But the pervasive sourness of everything else, from the other performances - especially that of Sadoski, who moves and sounds like Jim Carrey after a bad afternoon at the gym - to David Newell's set (plastered with paintings of sperm), Sardelli's staging (replete with the mock gravity of a first-year directing final), and the endless amount of time Joseph takes to say things even neophyte audiences won't need spelled out, requires more than a spoonful of sugar to easily swallow.

One might well unearth some layer of meaning here referencing the ever-lengthening immaturity of American men, or the dangers of cavalier attitudes towards sex (even of the protected variety as, bizarrely, is the case here), but doing so would be a waste of time. There's little doubt that the veins of inconclusiveness coursing through All This Intimacy were intended as deep, but to encourage us to seek them, the playwright must first convince us there is at least one good reason to start digging.


All This Intimacy
Through August 12
McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway at West 76th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Theatermania