Monday, August 29, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of The Fucking Problem at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas G. Jacoby

This review of The Fucking Problem at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Dr. Thomas G. Jacoby and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Fucking Problem
A New Play by Emily Lucia Alexander & Nate Dobson
Performed by Emily Lucia Alexander & Nate Dobson
Directed by Jessica O'Hara Baker
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 8/19/16

In order to call attention to a social issue or concern, a playwright will sometimes frame an extreme example to make us aware of our own preconceptions and prejudices. In the modern world, this has become increasingly difficult because, we, as a population, are somewhat jaded. Bad language can be heard on late-night television, fetishes once considered perverse now have national support groups (no doubt with political lobbying arms), and children are educated about alternative lifestyles at a very early age.

The Fucking Problem is a play about rape and what can happen between partners when one says, "No" and the other proceeds anyway. To frame this question in such a way that the audience is forced to examine their own attitudes, we are given an extreme duo, and a somewhat extreme set of circumstances.

We join the male and female protagonists on the set of a pornographic film, between scenes. Each takes turns speaking to the audience about their introduction to and involvement in the porn industry. As we were warned before the start of the play, there are many "trigger words." The terminology the characters employ is graphic and unrelenting. We are given a behind-the-scenes, titillating view of a world where one's sexual organs become branded commodities that are rendered up in latex and silicone and sold to the masses as toys. We learn of the sense of community in the industry, "It's us, against the world." Most of all, we are given repeated examples that pornography is an illusion, designed for and determined by the market. The pornstars' on-screen personas stimulate the viewer. It is not real. Many examples are given, most related to BDSM and rough sex, the core lesson being that, in pornography, the submissive partner is the one in control at all times. Dominance is the illusion.

We learn that our two stars are bound by contract to complete their on-screen sex acts today: they have not spoken in more than a year, although prior to that time, they were real-life lovers who lived together. All that changed when the male did not honor the "safe word" and forced himself on the female.

Most of the play sets the challenges for the audience by asking more and more extreme questions: Can it still be rape when the woman has had sex for money, on camera, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of partners?; Can it still be rape if she has had sex, and very rough sex, both on and off-camera with her alleged rapist?; Is there any possibility for redemption for the one who has been accused of rape?

Emily Alexander and Nate Dobson give compelling performances. The characters have an honest and realistic feel, and the back-and-forth of the dueling soliloquies does not feel contrived or forced: it builds a genuine crescendo as well as any structure could. The questions are valid and disturbing, as they are intended to be. The Fucking Problem is every bit as dramatic as an Ibsen play, and falls short of being an impressive vehicle for possible social change by only a little.

The biggest negative undermining the impact could be described as a millennial fascination with fuzzy semantics. "I said he raped me. I did not say he was a rapist. I made that distinction." Sorry, to us elder-types, this sounds every bit as odd as "I eat meat once or twice a week, but I'm a vegetarian." The female protagonist appears less horrified about the actual rape than the lack of a subsequent apology, which lessens the blow of the horrific subject matter somewhat. Could an act of violence characterized as a rape actually be mitigated by an apology, no matter what the circumstances, and still be considered rape? The male's response is that even if no rape has taken place, social media has made it impossible to defend against the charge once it's out there. The portrayal of the porn industry itself is somewhat idealized and superficial but probably adequate as a framework for the issues being elucidated.

The Fucking Problem is a part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival. It is worth seeing, if you are not easily distracted by graphic language and scenarios, and are interested in seeing a new generation of playwright-performers wrestle with an ancient question. For more information, visit 

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