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Theatre Review (LA): The Escort by Jane Anderson, at the Geffen Playhouse

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The Escort is a commissioned play by Jane Anderson that recently opened at the Geffen. For the most part the play works very well; it’s funny, explicit, controversial, and uncompromising. The subject mater is about our sexuality, and it asks the question: Just how far are people willing to go to count themselves open about sex? All the characters think they are open, hip, adult, and downright scientific when it comes to sexual expression. The truth is that our hang-ups are still with us no matter how modern we profess to be.

The catalyst of this exploration is a high-class call girl (don’t call her a prostitute) named Charlotte. When she goes to visit an Upper West Side gynecologist, Rhona, Charlotte ends up being involved with Rhona, her ex-husband Howard (also a doctor), and their rebellious son Mathew who has just discovered porn on his computer. Charlotte presents herself as free and open about sex and goes about trying to “free” this family of their outdated beliefs. The results are often hilarious.

Charlotte, played brilliantly and with great charm by Maggie Siff, talks to us, in character, before the play begins, explaining that for purposes of diverting our attention from exposed genitalia, she and another character, a male escort, will wear anatomically correct bodysuits. As a result of this decision by the playwright we are free to observe the characters’ actions and words without being distracted. The playwright has a point and beautifully sets the audience up to examine their own ideas about sex as the story and sexual encounters are revealed. The words are very important here, not only because Ms. Anderson is a gifted playwright, but because we are able to see the gulf between what is said and what happens.

Most of the play is lighthearted and charming and we open up at the same time the characters do. Then in the later part of the play there is an abrupt shift in mood, these characters we have come to love turn on each other, and we are left not knowing what to do. Some might say this is bad playwrighting, but I think Ms. Anderson did this to leave the question of what constitutes “open” right in our laps.

The Escort is well directed by Lisa Peterson who uses a deft touch to fulfill what the playwright has in mind. Her actors are incredibly skilled. Polly Draper is quite wonderful as the beleaguered gynecologist who must juggle her own needs with those of her ex and her precocious son. Gabriel Sunday plays both the bratty son and the smooth-talking male escort. He creates two different but believable characters. James Eckhouse plays the ex as well as a few other characters, including a very funny turn as a bitchy waiter. This cast is excellent and the moments between them are very real and connected. The Escort plays at the Geffen Playhouse until May 8th.

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