In The Mystery of Love and Sex, Bathsheba Doran appears to have written a play about lust and romance for people who have not experienced those things. Directed by Sam Gold and playing at Lincoln Center, Doran’s drama follows two pairs of characters, one coming of age and one middle-aged, as they weather crises of desire.
Charlotte (Gayle Rankin) and Jonny (Mamoudou Athie), best friends since childhood, are now at college together, fumbling for personal and sexual identity. Might they be more than friends? Is one of them gay? Does it matter that he’s black and Baptist and she’s Jewish? While the youngsters
experiment and agonize, Charlotte’s parents (expertly portrayed by Tony Shalhoub and Diane Lane) unearth their own relationship traumas. In Act Two, set five years later, all four seem better adjusted — until a fresh set of schisms appears.
Gold’s directing is elegant, the cast
is strong, and Doran provides intriguing
moments of dark comedy. But she forces Charlotte and Jonny to confront past, present, and future, lending the play a symmetry that comes off as improbable. The parents, meanwhile, serve mainly as foils for their offspring. Most important, Doran doesn’t quite trust her audience to grasp the subtleties of evolving relationships. Instead she mires us in exhaustive emotional detail. Yes, love and sex are mysterious, but not in the ways she seems to think.