“Intimacy” at the New Group at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Closed Saturday March 8, 2014)

February 14, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written by Thomas Bradshaw
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“My mother just walked out the door one morning, and never came home. She once said to me: “Follow your heart, Matthew. Follow your heart, and you will always be happy.” I’m going to follow my heart. This way I’ll always know that she’s proud of me.” – From Matthew’s Prologue

Just as Matthew’s (Austin Caldwell) “high end” video camera pans into a scene in his “A Frot in the Neighborhood” porn film” then fades out and goes into and out of focus, intimacy itself engages the audience then retreats in importance and comes into pedagogic focus then blurs into the realm of inconsequence in Thomas Bradshaw’s “Intimacy” currently running at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row as part of the New Group’s current season.

Despite Matthew’s heartfelt and transparent Prologue, “Intimacy’s” first act seems to deliberately lack focus and wobbles about as actors, despite lacking connection and credibility, provide a respectable amount of exposition in anticipation of the second act. Once characters begin to “follow their hearts,” the second act of Mr. Bradshaw’s important play evidences a more coherent and cohesive plot structure. Each character’s complex and well-developed conflict matrix drives an interesting and challenging story line brings into question society’s double standard response to its prurient underbelly and exposes the racism inherent in this wealthy suburb. From the script:

SARAH (To Matthew): See! But that’s your only race awareness. You’re only aware of it when you feel threatened. I think most white people mean well, but that they don’t realize the small things that they do.

JAMES (To Fred): The problem is that they lack proper supervision. In Mexico, they get to sit around
all day, and sing and play the banjo, but here they have to really work. They need someone to keep them focused, but you’re never around. I need you to come to my house and supervise them every day. Can you do that?

Thomas Bradshaw chooses what might be the most unlikely trope for “Intimacy;” namely the extended metaphor intimacy is frottage. This metaphor allows Mr. Bradshaw to explore the intricacies of the phenomenon of intimacy while keeping the audience constantly wondering, “What exactly is going on here?” Those who give this playwright the space he needs are rewarded with a profound understanding of intimacy in human relationships and an equally sophisticated treatment of human creativity and potential.

Perhaps “Intimacy’s” most authentic scene occurs in the second act during the filming of “A Frot in the Neighborhood.” When asked if he would star in Matthew’s porn movie, Fred (David Anzuelo) agrees to participate only if he can film a scene with the eighteen year old filmmaker. Though happily married to the woman he used to pimp when she was a prostitute (one cannot make this up), Fred enjoys pleasuring himself while surfing a variety of homoerotic porn sites on the internet. After his initial doubt, Matthew agrees to do the scene and, in fact, wants to be closer to Fred after filming the scene. After completing the project, Matthew affirms (from the script):

MATTHEW: When we began this artistic endeavor I thought it was about frottage. But after being with all of you, and witnessing the emotional and transformative breakthroughs that we’ve gone through together, I now see what my film is really about. It’s about Intimacy. It’s all about intimacy.

Despite the weak first act, “Intimacy” manages to raise important questions about the meaning of authentic closeness and tenderness. Whether or not this important quest could be achieved without the exposure of the male and female sexual anatomy (real and plastic) is moot. This is the choice the playwright made. And that choice exposes the deep desire humans have to be close, to connect, to be honest. Sex has never been the only way to achieve honesty. “Intimacy” is perhaps a testament to the affirmation that sex is the least successful way to express human warmth and tenderness. The audience needs to decide for itself: Thomas Bradshaw, Scott Elliott and their dedicated and talented ensemble cast have raised the questions and provided a forum for sharing answers. “Intimacy” is well worth the time and effort it demands.