Polyamory is a tricky business. And so is site-specific theater. Thus the twin morals of Mariah MacCarthy’s soapy dramedy, The Foreplay Play. Staged in a (pretty nice!) Williamsburg apartment by director Leta Tremblay—about 20 or so spectators cram into assorted chairs at one end of the living room—the piece’s setting promises to flout theatrical conventions while its risqué subject matter (an orgy) challenges sexual ones. But, as its title inadvertently advertises, The Foreplay Play is all build-up and not much payoff.
One fine evening, two pleasant young couples get together for a little roast chicken and group sex. The hosts, Isabel and Kelly (both gals), met at a kink night—it was love at first whipping—but have lately become somewhat more staid in the boudoir. Anika and Kyle are comparatively straight-laced, but still eager to spice things up with a swing session. As we quickly discover, however, the occasion’s vectors of desire go beyond just simple swapsies or a group tangle. Without giving too much away, some parties are more keen on each other than others, taking advantage of various felicitous exits to declare hidden passions, and attempt to woo their lust objects into something more serious than a one-time sex-pile. Uh-oh. Readers, take note: Sex often involves feelings as well as fluid exchange. (Some spectators might find aspects of the play’s premise a bit risible. All the women appear to be fluidly, cheerfully, bisexual—including both members of the female couple, one of whom has a secret crush on the sensitive straight dude.)
The apartment location puts us next to the simmering sexual tension, but despite the suggestion of an unconventional staging, this is pretty standard “my problems in your living-room” theatrical realism—the production could easily be moved to a black box without any substantial changes. The fourth wall remains undisturbed. Contrived departures—going for a cigarette, heading to the bodega—allow the various characters to pair off for intense discussions and naughty revelations. And when opportunities arise to really exploit the setting’s potential for up-close detail, Tremblay seems stymied by logistics—cooking, for example, gets skipped over quite hurriedly. Since it’s not really a meaningful part of the piece, the apartment ends up being an agreeable distraction: It’s a bad sign when you catch yourself admiring the hardwood floors instead of the onstage complications.
Rolling around on the furniture and steaming up the kitchen, the boisterous young cast makes out with each other with great gusto. But soon the heavy breathing is replaced by crying and recriminations as wounded feelings displace active hormones. The eruption of sobs and shouts substitutes for the sexual climaxes that never arrive.
On the surface, The Foreplay Play has the bland GGG positivity about carnal matters of a college sex educator—knifeplay? Sure, as long as you’re careful!—but it also has a covert conservative streak. The piece ends up seeming pretty squeamish about omnivorous sex. Our two couples never get around to actually swapping; hurt egos and conflicting desires get in the way. And when things get messy, they retreat inside their domestic units for comfort. Monogamy: 1, polyamory: 0.