Sexual Healing

A fictional sex researcher goes all the way.

  • ZIP IT Player, left, helps cure a man of his inhibitions.

ZIP IT Player, left, helps cure a man of his inhibitions.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5

Jonathan Leaf’s new play about the early days of sexual surrogacy warns potential audiences about nudity and adult themes, but don’t be fooled. If only Sexual Healing were as dramatically arousing as its disclaimer suggests. Instead, this fictional chronicle spanning 1959 to 1992—about a Masters and Johnson--esque researcher whose work impinges on her life—goes limp before it climaxes. Leaf’s text is attentively detailed and amusing, but it isn’t nailed to a sound narrative, and the direction and performances often evoke a virginal tentativeness.

When Desiree Novak (an effective Judith Hawking) goes to work for researcher Dr. William Munson (Chuck Montgomery), her responsibilities include filming couples having intercourse and hiring women (quaintly dubbed “surrogate wives”) willing to use their bodies to cure men of sexual dysfunctions. Leaf’s passion for this topic is palpable as he introduces patients and surrogates in the first act, but the second leans heavily on clich as Desiree embarks on an affair that leads to marriage and divorce and faces a lawsuit from a former surrogate (Sayra Player, whose courtroom scene with Hugh Sinclair is adeptly executed). Despite so much plot twisting and Desiree’s many monologues, her story doesn’t compel.

Unlike in another play about a similarly titillating topic—Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or the vibrator play—Leaf’s characters are never as fully realized as the big themes he strives to get across about changing bedroom mores and their impact on marriage and family. And isn’t the sex act really less important than the person you’re doing it with?—Diane Snyder

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Theater Three. Written and directed by Jonathan Leaf. With ensemble cast. 2hrs. One intermission.