American Sexy

By Trista Baldwin
Directed by Mia Walker
Featuring Satomi Blair, Scott Morse, Nicky Schmidlein, Ron Washington

Flea Theater, 41 White Street
January 15, 2011 — February 22, 2011
production web site:

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
February 13, 2011

Nicky Schmidlein, Ron Washington, Satomi Blair, and Scott Morse. Photo: Dan Applegate.

In the Flea Theater’s charming and intimate lobby, after being greeted by lovely staff who turn out to be the actors in tonight’s dramatic offering (taking tickets, serving drinks, greeting patrons), I admire a wall of posters honoring past Flea productions of plays by A.R. Gurney.  O, Jerusalem (“Todos estamos en la misma”), Mrs. Farnsworth, Screenplay, Post Mortem, and A Light Lunch framed and all in a row.  The visages of John Lithgow and theatre patron Sigourney Weaver prominently displayed contribute to the atmosphere of expectation this Sunday evening, my first visit to this renowned off-off Broadway venue.  I am not disappointed.

American Sexy is a creation by two young women — playwright Trista Baldwin and director Mia Walker — embodied by four actors of varying hues and ethnicities.  This New York premiere production of a seething new play provides a view into how a particular group of college-aged characters talk to, at, and past each other, rarely listening, entranced by the sound of their own voices, in an intermissionless 90 minutes, in action set at the rim of the Grand Canyon.  Couplings are suggested in the past, present, and future.  Lexi (Satomi Blair) has the first and last word (facing the Canyon rim at curtain up, and facing a gun at final blackout).  The set up is marvelous.  The acting ensemble is entrancing.  Each performance is honed and mesmerizing.  And despite a disappointing final few minutes involving a sizable gun brought out to create tension and suggest a potential resolution that feels cheap and unnecessary as it follows taut sparkling writing to that moment, this is fabulous theatre.

Four twenty somethings stop at the Grand Canyon on a road trip to enjoy the view, on their way to Las Vegas for an adventure, in a ride share kind of hookup situation that happens during college years.  Lexi and Jessica (Nicky Schmidlein) have been friends since age 13 and are now at the same college.  Jessica may or may not be the innocent Kewpie doll she pretends to be and Lexi is defiant and smart and funny and may have sexual tastes across gender lines.  Andy (Scott Morse), the owner of the car providing the adventure, knows Lexi (and perhaps pines after her), reveals some things he has heard about Jessica (involving videos shared cell phone to cell phone across campus), and Darren (Ron Washington) is an ad hoc fellow student member of the traveling band who is open for whatever may unfold.

Beer, marijuana, a sudden decision to camp out (equipment courtesy of the ever prepared driver Andy — we would believe he is an  Eagle Scout but this playwright doesn’t include that character detail), and superficial explorations of sex with kisses, writhing bodies, a few moments when one or another character removes a shirt, a dance with a sex doll, and four frightened young people trying to figure out their lives.

Set by Kate Sinclar Foster evokes in orange-pink paint the red rock of the American Southwest.  The impression is augmented by shadows and lights provided by Joe Chapman.  Tribeca theatre resonates.

Outside looking in. Photo: Martha Wade Steketee.

© Martha Wade Steketee (February 15, 2011)

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