Another week, another politician embroiled in a sex scandal. One might be tempted to call Stephanie Timm’s new play about an unfaithful congressman, Tails of Wasps, topical, but these things happen so often, Wasps is more timeless than timely. Timm’s efficient, ruthless puncturing of male power fantasy roars to life in New Century Theatre Company’s engrossing staging, which achieves uncomfortable levels of intimacy in its hotel room set.
In a variety of anonymous hotel rooms, newly elected Frank (Paul Morgan Stetler) has separate encounters with four different women: a campaign aide, two prostitutes, and his wife. Timm’s script is neatly discrete, allowing the connections between scenes to bubble up without belaboring the point.
Stetler’s performance is a master class in miniature adjustments. He’s got the wholesome look and eager demeanor of many a politician, and even if his eyes betray a certain insincerity when he first appears, there’s nothing particularly alarming either. As the play progresses, Stetler gradually reveals all manner of inner ugliness, and he does it so convincingly, one feels stupid for not recognizing just how much of a snake he was to begin with. Duplicitous isn’t comprehensive enough of a word for this guy.
Brenda Joyner plays enthusiastic staffer Rachel, a goody two shoes who self-consciously tries to overcome her inhibitions and proclaim her love for Frank on the night of his election. Joyner’s turn smartly captures the duality of her naiveté and self-awareness. She realizes her girlish, nervous energy is unbecoming, but she’s made a decision to allow herself to feel that way anyway, for a bit at least.
Later trysts see Frank enlisting the services of high-price call girl Becca (Sylvie Davidson) and the somewhat less expensive J (Hannah Mootz) in an attempt to recreate some of the forbidden longing of that first encounter with Rachel. Davidson portrays the picture of control, a professional utterly dedicated to getting the job done while allowing her client to feel like he’s the one in charge. Mootz does the opposite in an unhinged turn that jackknifes from amusingly playful to legitimately frightening.
Tails of Wasps’ most impressive performance might just be Besty Schwartz’s as Frank’s wife, Deborah. In a play where every other character is hiding behind some kind of façade, her emotionally raw performance is a bracing reminder of the human consequences involved in all this. Schwartz avoids a clichéd yell-fest or crying jag, instead portraying a woman who’s allowing herself one moment of emotional freedom before the internalizing begins.
NCTC’s artistic director (and brilliant actor) Darragh Kennan directs his first production for the company, and his steady pacing allows room for the emotional beats to land without sacrificing the briskness of Timm’s script. Peter Dylan O’Connor’s scenic design makes interesting, immersive use out of ACT Theatre’s Buster’s Event Room, setting the scene before one even gets to their seat.
Tails of Wasps runs through April 27. Tickets are available for purchase online.
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