Photos by Monique Carboni
There are no judgments and no boundaries in Thomas Bradshaw’s plays, in which people transgress all social limits without retribution or guilt. His latest, Intimacy, is billed as a comedy, and it has laughs, but they’re queasy laughs, half on the edge of fear and anxiety. Most reviews will surely focus on the play’s physical demands. Some of the male actors must display their cocks at various levels of arousal; in one perilous scene near the end, one actor is even required to give head to another in such a way that it can’t be faked; there are scenes set on a toilet; there’s hardcore pornography played on a computer screen and even a glimpse of Deep Throat, in which we see Linda Lovelace going down on Harry Reems; a girl enters the porn industry and her liberal parents critique one of her films. Most memorably, when young Matthew (Austin Cauldwell) masturbates to climax, he shoots a huge load of jizz—two foamy spurting fountains—up above his head, which looks both amusingly hyperbolic and also youthfully possible.
This is an uncomfortable play, and not just because of all its uncomfortable situations—the tone is far from realistic but not quite unrealistic enough. It’s as if Bradshaw had an idea about pornography and sexual license between friends and neighbors and parents and children but never found the right context for it. Intimacy lurches from one scene to another, from one idea to another, reveling in crudeness and then overreaching for poetic wonder and then plummeting into crudeness again. It can be lively and rude and sort of funny, but it never quite expands into a full-bodied play. Something’s off here.
Bradshaw shows us things we don’t usually see on stage, but in his best plays, these appear in the service of larger issues. In Intimacy, they pile up to the point that any larger issues become obscured. When teenaged Sarah (Déa Julien) talks about how kids at school stopped talking to her when she got cancer and her hair fell out and then began talking to her again when her hair grew back, it sounds exactly wrong. Surely the kids in her bourgeois milieu would have been overly attentive to her when she got sick? Bradshaw needs to flip this scenario: Sarah should have complained about having all the friends in the world when she was ill and then losing them when she got better. That would have been more accurate and funnier—and also more painful. Bradshaw is one of our most original American playwrights, but Intimacy catches him with his own pants down.