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Theater Review

'Surviving Sex' in lieu of love

The carnal takes center stage as David Landsberg explores the comic

February 14, 2009|F. Kathleen Foley

A slow starter, David Landsberg's "Surviving Sex," now in its world premiere at the Falcon Theatre, initially comes across as a garden-variety sex comedy. However, Landsberg's surprisingly sophisticated examination of gender roles and sexual imperatives builds in momentum until it sucker punches you with unexpected hilarity -- and pathos.

Frustrated accountant Stan (Jeff Marlow) knows from sexual imperatives. A modest, hard-working guy, Stan is ruled by them. In fact, that failing has landed him in a series of unfortunate relationships, most recently with Denise (Amy Handelman), a ditsy actress more interested in Stan as a meal ticket than as a man. Of course, there's a quid pro quo, a "benefit" that blinds Stan to Denise's essential shallowness. As Stan's best friend, Larry (Peter Story), astutely observes, Stan, like most men, is motivated, prompted, aggravated and just plain driven by sex.

Stan's relationship abruptly ends after he is privy to a torrid "rehearsal" between Denise and her hunky acting class partner, Sid (Steve Coombs). But once Denise moves out, trouble follows, starting with Stan's sexy blind date, Lenore (Dana Green), a siren whose exotic sexual proclivities leave Stan in an embarrassing bind. And when Larry announces his split from his wife, Jennifer (Mandy June Turpin), Stan must free himself from yet another bizarre complication.

The action is set entirely in Stan's living room, a modern bachelor pad neatly captured in Keith Mitchell's subtly sterile set, colorfully illuminated by lighting designer Mike Jespersen. This is the apartment of a tidy, lonely man who deplores mess in his personal space. That's ironic, given the utter chaos in Stan's personal life.

Therein lies the humor, which director Susan Morgenstern deftly uncovers, laugh by laugh. The winning cast is spearheaded by the wonderfully hapless Marlow, whose slender form tends, fittingly, toward a question mark. Also outstanding is languidly sexy Green, who is as comically incisive as she is sultry.

Landsberg's synthesis of complicated issues is overly simplistic at times, and his strange device of having Stan speak directly to an audience only he can see seems belabored and misplaced. However, the play's treatment of what women want, as seen from Stan's singular point of view, is actually deeply layered. And one can't imagine a more fitting final word on the subject than Stan's propulsive closing monologue.

You may be too busy laughing to appreciate the play's finer philosophical distinctions. Yet under its obvious humor, "Surviving Sex" is most successful as a bristly valentine to those intrepid souls who, despite repeated humiliation and rejection, sally forth to hook up another day.

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'Surviving Sex'

Where: Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 1.

Price: $32.50 to $40

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

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