Maggie Siff and Polly Draper in The Escort
(© Michael Lamont)
Maggie Siff and Polly Draper in The Escort
(© Michael Lamont)
Jane Anderson's new play, The Escort, now premiering at the Geffen Playhouse under Lisa Peterson's direction, will likely polarize theatergoers. That's less because of its somewhat controversial subject matter than the abrupt tonal changes in the final third of the play.

Charlotte (Siff) is our guide to some kinky diversions of the rich and powerful. A high-priced call girl, Charlotte forms an unusual bond with her OB-GYN Dr. Rhona Bloom (Polly Draper), who is balancing her successful career with her stressful parenting of her 13-year-old son Lewis (Gabriel Sunday). Meeting Charlotte opens Rhona up sexually, and the good doctor soon contemplates hiring a male to satisfy her suppressed longings.

But this friendship proves tenuous at best, and Charlotte -- who begins as a witty, playful and beguiling figure -- ends up as a surprisingly sinister and cruel person, leaving some in the audience to feel betrayed. To her credit, though, Siff comes off as hauntingly naïve as the professional-minded prostitute who's more guarded than she admits.

Draper serves up some powerhouse moments as Rhona, and the veteran actress perfectly portrays Rhona's exploration of a world that initially frightens her. James Eckhouse has the least showy role as Rhona's ex-husband (and fellow physician) Howard, but oozes sleaze throughout.

Sunday has the play's most complicated task, since he must seamlessly play not only the 13-year-old Lewis, but also a 21-year-old male escort named Matthew. While portraying Lewis, the actor's cracking voice and awkward stance are exactly what you'd expect for a seventh-grader, while as pre-med drop-out Matthew, he's plastic and almost robotic, verbalizing terms of endearment that are almost vapid.

The production is first-rate. Richard Hoover's set magically flows from doctor's offices to tacky hotel bedrooms to classy cafes. Laura Bauer's dresses for Siff are as teasing as the actress, but Bauer has most fun with the "nude" suits for both escorts. They are titillating in a humorous way. Sound designer Paul James Pendergast delivers mischievous music that ties into Charlotte's façade of the happy hooker.