Hip Shot: Married Sex
Sunday, July 21, 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 25, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, July 26, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, July 26, 11:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, 4:45 p.m.
They say: "Award-winning solo performer Laura Zam (featured – NPR, Huffington Post, NY Fringe) plays 30 people struggling with sex. Based on a true tale, Zam navigates sex therapy, hypnosis, tantra, horny rabbis and more. A show you’re definitely in the mood for."
Chris's take: The notion that Fringe plays trade disproportionately on the promise of nudity and and sex is a persistent one, even though my own observation of the Capital Fringe slate over the last five years or so doesn't bear it out. In any case, Married Sex probably ranks just slightly above Hospital Flesh in terms of titillating titles. Presenting Married Sex, the show where you just look an empty stage clinging to the slender hope something will happen until you realize it's late and you have to be up really early in the morning, amirite? Hey-OOOOOOOOO!
You invite this jackassery, with a moniker like that. It's almost provocative in its lack of provocation.
Married Sex is, Laura Zam tells us right at the top, largely autobiographical but somewhat fictionalized. Monologues about the performers' troubled sexual histories are a genuine trend, at least in this year's festival. And with multiple bedroom confessionals to choose from, the one about the fortysomething, semi-recently married daughter of a holocaust survivor, whose childhood sexual trauma has made it exceedingly difficult for her to enjoy a healthy sex life even four decades later, even with the man to whom she's promised herself 'til-death-do-them-part—well, it's a downer. There's no getting around that.
"I'll never have a baby because my issues at up my fertility years," Zam tells us. "I'm making love! I'm making love work." The desperate emphasis she places on that last word is what this entire 70-minute monologue felt like to me.
One of the most important functions of art is to give us a hint of someone else's life experience, especially when we're talking about things we would not wish to know firsthand. But therapists are paid to listen; an audience pays for the privilege. This obliges the artist to package their experience in a way that entices us to stick around.
Zam has been through this arduous process many times; Married Sex is her seventh solo show, one she has already workshopped with director Shirley Serotsky, in Theater J's "Locally Grown" festival, over a year ago. So it's a mature product, this would-be humorous account of Zam's "sex brunches" and consultations with Rabbis and sex therapists and gurus and Tantrikas and couples counselors and spousal sex retreats. It's natural for us to hope that one of them will eventually prove successful, which creates a kind of suspense. And if that narrative tension goes unrelieved... see, you can't even talk about a show about sex without sounding like you're talking about sex.
Look: Married Sex is earnest. It's honest. If it should happen to comfort someone else who's reached mid-life without finding a way to delight in sex, then that alone justifies its existence. (The program includes an invitation for women to partake in a "sex brunch" where no topics of discussion will be taboo.) It's the kind of thing I'm extremely reluctant to call a failure just because it's not—reeeeaaally not—for me, a thirtysomething, never-married white guy (and goy) who simply hasn't lived the briefly-but-vividly-depicted horrors that Zam has. Your mileage may vary!
(Just to level-set: I recently saw my first production of Stephen Sondheim's Company and found that fairly sad and terrifying, too. And Sex in the City has never seemed funny to me, only existentially despairing. So: It's not you, Laura Zam, it's me! Maybe.)
Real talk: I came out of Married Sex admiring the hell out of the professionalism with which Zam powered through the performance I attended, late on a Sunday night, in front of a sedate crowd whose infrequent, noncommittal laughter was easily drowned out by the air conditioner at the back of the room. That can't be easy. I know Zam is a pro, but it was inspiring nonetheless.
I also wondered where her husband is in this story. Is that a typical male response? A despicable failure to empathize? I don't think so; he and she have pledged themselves to one another forever, so her discomfort with sex obviously affects him, too. We learn that "Matt" is not his real name, and that during a counseling session the couple attends—at his behest–he admits that the knowledge his wife finds it difficult to enjoy sexual intimacy with him is "sometimes" tough to bear.
Sometimes? And he needs to be in the presence of a counselor to admit this? Yes, obviously there is more to relationships than sex, and certainly a marriage needs to be built on something more durable than sexual chemistry if it's going to work. But if the show is called Married Sex, then shouldn't it be at least partially about the person Zam has chosen to marry? That he's so little heard from is perhaps the omission that made me experience this piece from an unlaughing remove best described as—pleasedon'tkillmepleasedon'tkillme—frigid.
See it if: You believe you possess the empathy and patience to accompany a married monologuist on her still-unfulfilled quest for sexual healing.
Skip it if: You’re quite certain you do not.