There’s no doubt that the Internet has changed every aspect of our lives. We can watch TV shows and movies for free, stalk all our old high school friends, and we can get off. Brandt Johnson’s play Just Sex explores the new world of cybersex, that magical invention that allows you to get intimate with the pixels on your screen.
In the time it takes to download last week’s episode of Mad Men, married couple William (Johnson) and Katherine (Tasha Lawrence) transform from a completely monogamous pair to one enjoying a wide-open marriage aided by a social network of people looking for sex. This invites into their lives the 21-year-old Amanda (Meghan Miller), whose fetishes introduce William to an entirely new world. The couple’s misadventures are paired with debates with William’s best friend, Kurt (Alex Kilgore), about the moral and technical aspects of getting busy on the Internet. The whole clan quickly learns that it’s not “just sex,” and they didn’t know what they were in for.
The show is bold to take on a taboo topic and face it head on. But when dealing with subjects that might make the audience squirm, actors have to be so committed and comfortable in their actions that there is no hint that they might want to squirm themselves. This commitment was lacking, making some scenes downright uncomfortable. What’s more disappointing is that the show begins attacking real questions in a real relationship but quickly devolves into a search for the next joke.
Another inherent issue with the production is that the structure of the play depends too much on digital interaction, which the audience has no way to take part in. This is only made worse by a comically large monitor blocking an actor’s face. Then the flow is challenged by short scenes that all end in abrupt blackouts instead of conclusions. The main conclusion is that this topic needs more solid writing in order to fully succeed.
Luckily, the play is supported by a strong cast of characters. Tasha Lawrence exudes attitude as Katherine. She is exceptional as a strong, sassy woman taking things into her own hands. She owns the stage, so it’s no surprise that William bends to her will as she seeks out the good times she craves. Johnson hits his stride in the quieter, more sincere scenes, but also displays a knack for comic timing. Miller gives a shallow performance as Amanda, which matches the nature of her and William’s relationship, and Kilgore is likeable and funny in the sidekick role.
Just Sex introduces important themes and asks questions that do need to be answered, but we won’t find those answers here. Instead, raunchy shock value replaces character development, and a story that starts out as timely and intriguing is completely unbelievable by the play’s end. It’s almost as superficial as those sex sites the story depends on.
Just Sex; Written by Brandt Johnson; Directed by Alex Kilgore; Theater for the New City; 155 1st Avenue; theaterforthenewcity.net.