by Thomas Bradshaw
Directed by Scott Elliot
A Production of The New Group
Theatre Row

Reviewed by David Spencer

For a while it seemed to me very much as if Intimacy by Thomas Bradshaw was just another example of New Group artistic director Scott Elliot’s  fascination with plays that explore and at times giddily seem to celebrate moral depravity and the human spirit at its least noble, but enough people who had seen it before I attended told me they were glad to have hung on for Act Two, that I felt a weird justification for a prurient curiosity I would not normally have had in such a context. This context including cum-squirting penises (oh yes, and the special effects and imitation tools seem more than real enough), the depiction of a husband taking an extravagantly noisy dump in a manner that is unabashed and specific, if not quite as visually illustrative (we don’t see his bowel movement, but he does call his wife in to have a look because he’s worried about the color) and the graphic depictions of all kinds of things—seemingly toward the point of pulling the veil off the “intimacy” of the title and showing just how far deep familiarity can let people who live together go.

               But in the second act, what Bradshaw has in mind becomes clear. He’s intending a Joe-Orton style dark-comedy-cum-farce (with actual cum) in which normal societal restrictions and taboos are systematically broken down to a point where everybody accepts everything, culminating in a community porn film featuring all the members (pun intended) of three family households, parents and late-teen/young-adult offspring included. And nothing wrong with that as a comic target for a satire on societal standards and double standards. But here are the problems.

               • Bradshaw doesn’t know how to set up his permissions. It’s okay for him to save a plot reveal for the second act, but he’s also—and I think unwittingly, because the craft isn’t in his current toolkit—keeping from the audience the prism through which to view all the shenanigans; so for the longest time it just seems like bullshit shock for bullshit shock’s sake, and generates many intermission walkouts.

               • Bradshaw simply doesn’t write funny enough dialogue. Social is a hard genre anyway because contemporary mores change, making them a constantly moving target. And while Joe Orton’s stuff provides a solid template, to be sure, the material itself hasn’t aged well. But it still generates a few laughs when done right, because he makes it clear, right from the beginning, what kind of ride we’re signing up for. By contrast, on a basic level, Bradshaw doesn’t make it clear we’re supposed to be watching a quite-literally balls-out comedy. And by the time we realize it—after the intermission—it’s way too late.

               • Director Scott Elliott has no gift for comedy. Never has. Doesn’t know how to direct it, pace it, time it, cast for it. His gift is for a kind of claustrophobic realism which is a stylistic enemy of comedy. \

               (*Sigh*) All those ejaculations for naught…

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