Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Rebecca Henderson, Zoë Sophia Garcia, and Chris Stack.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Given the amorous activities suggested by the play's title, it's probably a good thing that Kirk Lynn's Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra is not significantly about anyone's parents having sex. That would, however, be less of a problem if the new quasi-comedy that just opened at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater in a Playwrights Horizons production could consistently find anything else to say.

But Lynn, who was recently represented Off-Broadway as part of the writing team behind Lincoln Center Theater's Stop Hitting Yourself, does not so much trouble himself with questions of content or coherence. A simple question, about whether it's possible for two people—any two people—to truly know each other, is enough to start things promisingly, if not end them well.

We first meet Reggie (Chris Stack) and Carla (Zoë Sophia Garcia) when they're wrapping up a "date" (I'm being charitable here) back at her place. He's blindfolded, running his hand along a wall. She's giving him instructions (take off his shirt, take off his pants) and daring him not to follow them. Once he tires of the game, while squirming around blindly on the floor, he retrieves a tiny box from his coat, opens it, and presents it to her on bended knee. Will she marry him?

Yes, it turns out, but with one condition. Carla insists they recreate their entire sexual histories with each other before the ceremony, so there will be no secrets between them. This rankles Reggie's closest ex, Tony (Rebecca Henderson), a professional mediator, who sees a lot of potential for problems, especially with regards to one issue she knows about that Carla doesn't. But Reggie, keen on the idea because he's keen on Carla, signs on anyway.

You see practically none of what transpires, rest assured, though there's plenty of chit-chat about the couple's assignations in the park, under a restaurant table, in an adjacent room at Carla's parents' house while Mom and Dad are hypnotized by Wheel of Fortune. Instead, much of the spare time is consumed with a second trio: Bernie (Ismenia Mendes), a spunky 18-year-old; Sean (Maxx Brawer), the classmate who likes her; and Cole (Will Pullen), Sean's friend who's willing to go to any lengths—including dispensing a date-rape drug—to ensure their hook-up happens.

Up until intermission, Lynn is, however awkwardly, negotiating fascinating parallel romances, balancing titillation, comedy, and some genuine suspense in a largely non-gratuitous way. (The final scene of Act I, which investigates Reggie's darkest secret, is a true hair-raiser.) He contrasts adult complexities with adolescent one-dimensionality in a laid-back manner that promises an in-depth exploration of how relationships refashion from generation to generation, and ultimately force their participants to look at other pairings in different, and only intermittently useful, ways. The link between the sets of characters is expressly connected to this, but, when it's eventually revealed, it turns out to be the worst thing for the play.

That's when Lynn combines the threads, and devotes the remainder of his time to exploring the implications of one of the stories. But the (relative) weight and depth he's able to maintain when juggling two narratives vanishes when he's reduced to one, and there's not enough substance to it for him to keep that new one on track. Much of what ensues is characters either shouting at each other, shouting about each other, or saying nothing in a huff, which doesn't do much to further develop the central personalities who once merited more thorough treatment.

So limp does the storytelling become that the play that originally seemed to be about too much ceases to be about anything at all. And with enormous plot elements introduced and all but abandoned and sweeping conflicts unfolding offstage, the play ironically feels as though it's embarrassed to display itself to us. Anne Kauffman's staging is diffuse on Laura Jellinek's sparkling, cavernous apartment set (which Ben Stanton has aggressively, if often too-darkly, lit), and does little to compress various characters' concerns into an easily digestible form. Kauffman needed to make it easier to identify and distill the colliding stresses at the play's center; if anything, she spreads them out instead.

It's not surprising, then, that the performers likewise have trouble maintaining an even tone. Garcia comes across as harsh and vaguely untrustworthy, a dominatrix trying to camouflage her natural professional inclinations to work as an elementary school teacher. On the other hand, Stack is feather-light, not quite convincing as either Carla's sexually expert paramour or the neurotic, barely-together mess she leaves behind. Henderson nails Tony's tightly wound, businesslike mien, but the lack of any softness makes her an uneasy fit in any of the relationships Tony ends up in. The three younger actors stick to one note each—rage for Mendes, near-catatonic nervousness for Brawer, and melodramatic malice for Pullen—though play them with admirable gusto.

Such flat characterizations, as written or as acted, are yet another stumble for a play that wants us to understand we all run deeper than even those closest to us know. There are no easy answers, Lynn says as he unveils complication after complication in his creations' later lives when they discover emotions are never truly black and white, and then uses nothing but broad strokes to resolve the difficulties he creates. For those in the audience, as for those Lynn portrays, it's so difficult to know what, if anything, to believe that by the time it's all over you'll have stopped believing in anything about love or sex at all.

Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra
Through May 11
Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street
Tickets and performance schedule at TicketCentral

Privacy Policy