Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Broadway World Reviews: THE ESCORT is Fine Food for Thought @ the Geffen

The Escort
by Jane Anderson
directed by Lisa Peterson / Geffen Playhouse / through May 8
Three things may be said quite frankly about Jane Anderson's plays. First of all, the subject matter is never boring. In fact, what you see is bound to create controversy especially amongst those possessing middle class values. Secondly, the protagonist is a mixed bag of strength and insecurity, but in his (her) different perspective or lifestyle, he (she) bravely faces the consequences. Thirdly, there is usually a double standard for those pointing that ugly finger at the protagonist. What they think may be good for them may not be necessarily right for others to follow, or vice versa. Now at the Geffen The Escort lives up to all three, with four outstanding performances and superior direction from Lisa Peterson.

In Looking for Normal, Anderson tackled a straight man's issue with dressing up as a woman and getting in touch with his feminine side, and how it affected not only him, but his whole family and the community around him. In The Escort, it's a woman who is different. She's a prostitute - maybe not as radical as the cross dresser, but certainly still - and hard to believe in today's day and age - looked down upon by many as the vermin of society. Charlotte (Maggie Siff) who justifies her feelings about what she does as totally positive, does not have an easy time of it when she tries to befriend an upper crust Jewish doctor (Polly Draper) and her ex-husband, also a doctor (James Eckhouse). Rhona (Draper) is a gynecologist who becomes quite fascinated with new patient Charlotte's seemingly happy lifestyle as a hooker. Rhona is divorced from Howard (Eckhouse) and is not having an easy time raising a 13 year-old son (Gabriel Sunday), who is preoccupied with porn on the internet. To make a long story short, Rhona sees no chance of getting back with her cold husband and accepts a date with a male prostitute at Charlotte's caring suggestion. What ensues befuddles her son, who obviously cannot understand why it is wrong for him to think about sex, but OK for his mother to cheat behind his dad's back with an escort. To make matters even worse, Charlotte beds Howard and so both parents are having sex with escorts, and yet perplexed as to why they cannot manage their son properly. But, worst of all, Rhona refuses medical attention to Charlotte, when she thinks she has crossed the line with her promiscuous behavior, thereby creating distrust among friends and putting the Hippocratic oath at stake. When both parents realize their mistakes, rather than apologize to Charlotte, they instantly blame her for intruding into their lives, for what they claim is out of fear for their son's life. Rather than leave matters alone, they call in the police, concoct some fake story to cover up their own flaws and ruin Charlotte's existence. Hardly a pretty picture, but certainly engrossing drama!
The cast is sublime. Siff is remarkable in her portrayal, serving as narrator of the piece as well. She makes Charlotte intelligent and sympathetic, although some may only see the deviousness of Charlotte's approach. Draper is great as Rhona, bringing out her loneliness and motherly fears, while clinging to her self-righteous sense of morality. Eckhouse is wonderful essaying a gay waiter and other clients of Charlotte as well as arrogant Howard. Sunday is equally dazzling as both the son Lewis and male escort Mathew who loses his cool in his encounter with Rhona. She obviously hits a nerve with him, as he sees his own physician mother with whom he was formerly at odds. Anderson enhances her play's savvy perspective with this kind of wise casting. In one scene Rhona tangles with Mathew who reminds her of her son and in the next scene she actually finds herself arguing with Lewis who once again knocks her off her pedestal. In one it's an outsider's perspective on what is wrong with her, and in the other it comes from within, yet affects her just as hard. Quite ingenious!
The Escort is a fascinatingly well acted and directed play that will keep you thinking when the evening is over. It is delightfully humorous in the first act, with more intellectual stimulation in the second. Overall, it simultaneously entertains and enlightens.
Post-note: The substituted body stockings with attachments instead of nudity made me take more notice and laugh, especially the grotesque plastic nipples and oversized cock. I think in Europe the nudity would have been preferred. I know it would not have bothered me in the slightest. But then we have these moral self-righteous folks in the audience as well, who I hope were at least partly shaken into some serious reflection and introspection by what they experienced.

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