Written by Trista Baldwin
Directed by Mia Walker
provides a status update on what the kids are doing these days. Or, rather, how the kids these days are doing the same things as all the kids who came before, only differently. The quartet of collegiates toting cell phones throughout Trista Baldwin
's off-campus thriller (through March 6) make a stop at the Grand Canyon on a road trip from their West Coast university to Las Vegas. "It looks just like the pictures," Lexi exclaims in the opening play's line, announcing its hinging on the exchange of images. But postmodernity isn't so much the play's subject as it is the setting for the mind-games, seductions, betrayals and battles of wills that follow, the control of images both digital and social becoming the slippery currency over which the characters fight.
Lexi (Satomi Blair) and Jessica (Nicky Schmidlein), ostensible BFFs, couldn't be much more different, but in the forced proximity of college dorms the latter has become fluent in the former's profanity-ladden performance of... whatever will get her the attention of others. Nobody in this four-some is without fault: Jessica, a blonde pre-med student playing dumber than she is, also isn't so innocent as she pretends; Andy (Scott Morse), the sweet dork and outdoorsman whose math competition occasioned the road trip, turns out a tad psychopathic; and Darren (Ron Washington) is basically your typical judgmental, jock-y misogynist. There's a touch of Iiago's silver-tongued deceit in Lexi, a way of playing everybody in the room (or on the cliff) constantly and effortlessly, as though manipulation comes as naturally to her as breathing does to her victims. It's a hell of a part, like Lady Macbeth-meets-Girls Gone Wild
, and Blair revels in its viciousness. Morse too, at first quiet and aloof, unveils Andy's ugliness in a series of big, scary gestures and stoned rants, undergoing the most remarkable transformation of the four. And though Jessica and Darren are more constant in their dramatic value, Schmidlein and Washington ground the excellent ensemble, the former nailing the evening's only moment of clear-eyed emotional honesty in the closing minutes.
What Baldwin drives at with brutal force, and what Mia Walker's swift, effective and unobtrusive direction lets hang uncomfortably in front of the audience in the Flea Theater
's downstairs space, is some understanding of the brutal defense mechanisms today's twentysomethings develop during the ever-more jarring passage from adolescence into adulthood. Every compliment exchanged between these four doubles as snide criticism, and is usually accompanied by a slew of straight-up insults. Being open or candid is tantamount to social suicide, and reacting honestly to any of the never-ending attacks launched by friends, enemies and would-be lovers constitutes an admission of defeat. American Sexy
portrays a sharply resonant sensual power struggle where concealment is the safest move, and any sense of truthfulness is lost to a constant battle of put-on one-upwomanship. It's profoundly un-sexy, and unsettlingly, unmistakably American.
(photo credit: Dan Applegate)