It’s not often a play that could really grow legs and take off has its world premiere on the East End of Long Island, but that’s what happened this weekend as Sex: What She’s Really Thinking, by Ilene Beckerman with Michael Disher, debuted in Southampton.
Another play with Beckerman’s name on the playbill, Love, Loss, and What I Wore got its start in the Hamptons in 2008 before a successful off-Broadway run and national tour. Now, it is staged by theater companies all over the world. Nora and Delia Ephron adapted the play from Beckerman’s book of the same name. It seems a safe bet that her Sex is going to follow a similar path to notoriety.
Beckerman’s wit and wisdom shine through in Sex, which lend a familiarity to those who have seen Love, Loss. However, the new work gets actresses out of their chairs, for a more lively and engaging experience. And while Love, Loss takes some dramatic turns, Sex is pure comedy.
The actresses, Bonnie Grice, Joan Lyons, Josephine Wallace, Danielle Shuman, Gina Surnicki and Amy Rowland, and two male cast members, Tom Rosante and Matthew O’Connor, quickly jump from portraying one character to another or delivering a one liner in a quick paced series of short stories, jokes and slightly longer skits.
Disher, who directs, says he likes to think of the style as contemporary vaudeville, along the lines of Laugh In.
The cast slips into characters with ease, maybe adding a New Jersey accent or Southern drawl to differentiate. The only recurring characters are Mary, Mary (Rowland), who recites dirty twists on nursery rhymes as interludes between scenes, and Dr. Zhivago (O’Connor), a psychiatrist who offers advice to women young and old on all sorts of relationship and bedroom problems.
Topics addressed on Dr. Zhivago’s couch and throughout the play are the progression from sex kitten to cougar and from turning down pestering husbands for sex to being frustrated and feeling neglected when a man loses his libido. Women also address first times, what they look for in a man and their pet peeves. And–despite the title of the play–the men get a word in edgewise as well as they share their own expectations and complaints.
With a simple set of a projector screen and some chairs painted red in the intimate Southampton Cultural Center theater, Sex is presented quite like a black box theater experience. No seat in the house is too far from the stage, which is helpful since the actors’ subtle movements sometimes can do more to deliver a punchline than the words themselves.
Sex came to be after Beckerman answered a casting call Disher put out in 2012. He was preparing to stage Love, Loss and when Beckerman came across his announcement she decided to reach out and see if she could audition for the role of Gingy, the narrator, a character based on her life. She had never been in the show before—in fact, she had no acting experience—but Disher was excited to have the originator of the work and he cast her sight unseen.
They developed a close-knit friendship. “He was like my soulmate,” Beckerman says.” I didn’t want to lose him.”
Disher says they always make each other laugh, and they thought they could use that. “We figured if we talked a lot and wrote a lot, maybe other people would laugh—a lot,” Disher says.
Many of the ideas came from Beckerman’s own experiences and observations. “You should go listen to your grandmothers,” Beckerman, 78, says. “When you become an old woman, you know everything.”
To round out the play, Disher said that they sought to speak with friends about their experiences regarding sex and relationships. Disher asked his Facebook friends for their input and says he got many candid responses—sometimes too candid.
Many relatable archetypes concerning relationships made their way into the play, plus some unexpected anecdotes that are stranger than fiction.
In Sex, the jokes are sometimes raunchy, the word choice is occasionally dirty, but the humor is never low brow and won’t leave the audience blushing too often.
Sex: What She’s Really Thinking will be performed Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through January 26. Tickets are $22 for general admission, $12 for students under 21 with ID, and, on Fridays only, $20 for seniors. The Southampton Cultural Center is located at 25 Pond Lane, Southampton Village. Pay at the door or reserve tickets online at southamptonculturalcenter.org.