It would not be unreasonable for audience members at Paul Walker’s site-specific Ladies & Gents to suspect that they are about to die. After an unsmiling Irishman orders us not to move from our allotted positions, actors whip out guns and meat cleavers with the air of flag-waving revelers on St. Patrick’s Day. And as we wipe the blood of a beheaded whore off our cheeks, it may occur to us that the production’s unlikely location—Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain bathrooms, swathed in March fog—means that if the worst happened, no one would know where to look for us.
This daringly staged and structured work about sex and murder recreates a 1957 Dublin scandal involving, of all things, a politician and a prostitute. Before the show—created by Semper Fi (Ireland) and imported by the Irish Arts Center—the audience splits in half; one group crowds into the women’s bathroom, the other into the men’s. Two 20-minute dramas play out simultaneously, re-enacting a prostitute’s death at the hands of a man who claims to enjoy rest-room rendezvous (in the Ladies’), and revealing the reasons for his act (in the Gents’). Then audience members swap locations and the scenes repeat. The actors perform their noirish playlets with pitch-perfect staginess, yet the most engaging character is the set itself: Like the people who loiter in them, these mud-tracked, malodorous lavatories dabble with the distinctions between private and public, hidden and exposed, clean and filthy. No luck of the Irish for these desolate Dubliners.