The Sexual Life Of Savages (Walking Shadow Theatre Co., performing at the Theatre Garage, through Dec 14). What a gutsy, ambitious, throw-down-the-gauntlet title. Here, the title seems to suggest, you will find a play about crazed reptilian passion. The characters may inhabit the 21st century but they will live close to the human bone, attuned to, in sync with, wild fiery (and very unintellectual) frenzy. Modern day cavemen. Savages. “Oh, yes!” I exclaimed to my lovely companion. “This is the play for me.”
Unfortunately, Ian MacAllister-McDonald‘s play, to put it mildly, disappoints. The major character, Hal (Joe Bombard), is a reedy nebbish, a jealous, insecure, and thoroughly unlikable worm who “slut-shames” his decent girlfriend, Jean (a terrific turn by Meghan Kreidler), by obsessing on her past sexual dalliances: “You had twenty-five lovers?” he exclaims, shocked. “You mean you don’t consider fellatio to be sex?!” He alienates Jean into an angry departure then turns to the wonderfully dorky Alice (Clare Parme), a neurotic quasi-artist with a fake accent; she claims that Hal’s innocent kissing is actually attempted rape. Bye-bye, Alice.
Other characters include Hal’s smarmy pal Clark (Nicholas Leeman) who spends all his time lining up female lovers for he and his (unseen) wife Emily. There is also Jean’s friend, Naomi (Megan Dowd), who undoes a longstanding relationship with her partner in order to spend a single night with Clark and Emily. Who then casually reject her.
And on it goes. The Sexual Life Of Savages is ultimately about rejection, but MacAllister-McDonald offers no palliative alternative. And no savagery: characters are brittle and shallow, one-dimensional. Hal’s final self-directed admonition – “Be a human being,” – doesn’t land. The play, bloodless LaBute/wanna-be Mamet, also suffers from a herky-jerky structure: every five minutes the lights fade and all energy disappears as the Black Tee Shirts shift the set. Both act-endings surprised; there is almost no build to the plot.
Certainly, there are pleasures. MacAllister-McDonald’s writing is breezy and the play is often quite funny. The actors are terrific. I enjoyed Dowd as the adrenalized Naomi and, especially, Bombard, as Hal. His performance is focused and his energy never flags. He gets plenty of help from his first rate director, Amy Rummenie. Her character work is terrific and the play moves along briskly.
For more info about John Olive, please visit his website.