Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra

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Photograph: Jeremy Daniel
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Photograph: Jeremy Daniel
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Photograph: Jeremy Daniel
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Photograph: Jeremy Daniel
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Photograph: Jeremy Daniel
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Photograph: Jeremy Daniel
Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra
Playwrights Horizons, Hell's Kitchen Sunday May 11 2014 19:00

Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra. Playwrights Horizons (see Off Broadway). By Kirk Lynn. Directd by Anne Kauffman. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.

Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra: In brief

From the prolific imagination of Kirk Lynn—already on display this season in Stop Hitting Yourself and Bum Phillips All-American Opera—springs this comedy about love and sexual history. The sharp Anne Kauffman (Belleville) directs.

Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra: Review by Helen Shaw

In one area, Kirk Lynn's ambitious Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra is explosively efficient: namely, at getting its audience to cringe. Even before the plot's erotic games begin, Lynn's title insists that we think about our parents in flagrante. By the uneven drama's punishing end, a teenage character will be on the floor in the fetal position, begging her father to stop revealing his sexual past. I would have done the same, but you can't really get your legs up under you in those Playwrights Horizons seats.

Sutra's first, rather bad act sets up a double timeline. In the ’90s, Reggie (Chris Stack) struggles to comply with the demands of his inamorata, Carla (Zoë Sophia Garcia), who wants them to reenact their respective sexual histories with each other. Reggie runs the idea past ex-girlfriend Tony (Rebecca Henderson), who goggles, calling Carla “smart”…as opposed to, say, shortsighted and cruel. Tony knows Reggie has something desperately sad to conceal, something no rational person would include among Carla's strap-ons and public-indecency jollies. But radical vulnerability is Lynn's theme, so we're meant to believe that acting out past abuses will bring the couple closer.

These events are interlaced with scenes from our current decade, in which Reggie's teenage daughter, Bernie (Ismenia Mendes), has stumbled into her own sexual nightmare. Villainous high-school preppie Cole (Will Pullen) buffaloes sweet-natured Sean (Maxx Brawer) into not-quite refusing some clearly doctored drinks at a party. Falling prey to this Iago-in-training, both Sean and Bernie wind up roofied, violated and—unbelievably—in love. The meet-cute has turned into the meet-appalling before our eyes, and as in Reggie and Carla's story, the play introduces rape and damage as things that the characters will need to open up and tell their loved ones about, and thus move, tidily, toward healing.

While there were long stretches of interaction that I found unrecognizable for humans, Lynn writes tremendous scenes in his second act. Reggie, a callow figure before intermission, becomes marvelously harried when trying to understand his depressed daughter. Their fights feel so unchoreographed and furious, you expect family therapists to be waiting backstage. Director Anne Kauffman tries to drain some of the soapiness by staging it all on Laura Jellinek's bleak, furniture-free conference-room set. Sadly, she's less successful at keeping Henderson's performance tics under control, and large sections of the play seem cornier than need be due to Tony's power-bitch presence. In both decades she stomps holes in the realism with her spike heels, but of everyone in the room—and I include the scarred audience—at least she makes it through with libido intact.—Theater review by Helen Shaw

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Venue name: Playwrights Horizons
Contact:
Address: 416 W 42nd St
New York

Cross street: between Ninth and Tenth Aves
Transport: Subway: A, C, E to 42nd St–Port Authority
Price: $60–$75