Perennially provocative playwright Thomas Bradshaw eschews the shocking violence of his most recent plays Job and Burning in favor of a lighter touch for his latest farce, Intimacy. Focusing on filth and family in the suburbs, Intimacy takes aim at sexual hypocrisy and pornography, and examines the blurry line between intimacy and sex.
High schooler and aspiring filmmaker Matthew (Austin Cauldwell) is still reeling after the death of his mother, but not as much as his father James (Daniel Gerroll), who fell into a deep, suicidal despair as a result. In an attempt to wipe away the hold his wife’s design touches have over their house, James has hired a local contractor Fred (David Anzuelo) to paint and remodel areas of the house to his satisfaction.
Coincidentally, Fred’s daughter Sarah (Déa Julien) is Matthew’s new frottage-loving girlfriend and a former patient of Matthew’s mom, who was a leading oncologist. James takes pleasure in complaining about Fred’s Mexican helpers to his friendly, open-minded neighbors, Pat (Laura Esterman) and Jerry (Keith Randolph Smith), but he’s soon in for a surprise when Pat and Jerry’s daughter Janet (Ella Dershowitz) is revealed to be a budding porn star whose film persona is making waves throughout the neighborhood.
When Matthew declares that college would be a waste of money for his father because of his chosen profession in film, James decides to give him forty thousand dollars to fund two short films within a year span of time. Little does James know that his sponsorship will soon inspire Matthew to take up a less mainstream brand of filmmaking: pornography.
After Janet catches Matthew spying on her — and filming her — from his window next door, the two enterprising teens team up to create their own frottage-themed porn, A Frot in the Neighborhood, starring the entire neighborhood — even James, after he realizes the hypocrisy of his ways, having criticized Janet and antagonized her parents because of her chosen profession despite masturbating to her photo in Barely Legal magazine.
Director Scott Elliott keeps the play’s shocking episodes moving at a jaunty clip; even if you found the play’s sexual frankness off-putting you would never be bored. The simple design, including upholstered walls around the playing space and a hanging image of suburban tract houses, plays up the neighborhood feel of the piece without imposing too many clunky interior set pieces.
What Bradshaw typically does best is to present, with a sort of heightened naturalism (mostly but not entirely devoid of commentary), the shocking but ultimately truthful actions of his characters. Intimacy comes as a surprising and refreshing change of pace within his oeuvre, providing noticeably more knowing winks and nudges to its audience than usual. One can almost imagine Bradshaw fired up at his keys, a maniacal glint in his eye as he tops himself again and again.
To be sure, Intimacy isn’t a play for those easily offended by sex or language. Sex — on stage and on a TV screen — abounds, including numerous ejaculations. But Bradshaw’s shocks, as always, have a purposefully anesthetizing quality about them. We laugh as a young woman’s parents watch their own daughter’s porn flick and then critique her as to the elements of her performance that could be improved — but what is it about this moment that makes us laugh? We squirm, and the impetus behind the squirm is Bradshaw’s sharpened weapon of choice.