Peter O'Connor and Grace Gummer in
The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents
(© Thomas Hand Keefe)
Peter O'Connor and Grace Gummer in
The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents
(© Thomas Hand Keefe)
Vintage photographs from the Kinsey Institute line the lobby of The Wild Project where Electric Pear is producing Lukas Bärfuss' The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents, which is receiving its American premiere in a first-rate translation by Neil Blackadder.

Presumably, the pictures of women in various poses are meant to show how far we've come in the heretofore taboo areas of sexuality, while simultaneously preparing the audience for Bärfuss' play, which is about Dora (the ethereally childlike Grace Gummer), a mentally challenged young woman who experiences a somewhat rude sexual awakening. But for many theatergoers, the still images will linger in the mind far longer than the play, which ultimately feels like an exceedingly curious marriage of Buchner, Wedekind, and Freud.

The decision to take Dora (named presumably for Freud's infamous patient) off her meds comes from Mother (played with bourgeois hauteur by Laura Heidinger) after the physician who has treated Dora for her entire life dies. The new Doctor (played with both charm and creepiness by Peter O'Connor) doesn't entirely agree with the decision, but ultimately acquiesces to the older woman's request. After some disorientation, Dora begins to exhibit signs of returning to the world around her, particularly after Fine Gentleman (Max Lodge) flirts with her at the fruit stand where she works. Before long, Dora has accompanied Fine Gentleman to his motel room, where (consensual?) sex takes place and he brutalizes her.

After this, Dora, who doesn't seem to completely understand the ramifications of sexual intercourse, is hooked on not only the act but the guy as well. Doctor is appalled when he must treat her bruises, but also, during the course of explaining some of the facts of life to her, makes his own subtle sexual advances. Before long, Dora undergoes an abortion and later an enforced hysterectomy because she becomes increasingly vocal about wanting to have a child.

The premise for the work, and these various scenarios, both intrigue the audience and raise important questions. Unfortunately, Bärfuss rarely provides any answers or insights. Instead, the episodic piece wanders almost aimlessly, a trait exacerbated by Kristjan Thor's flaccid production, which unfolds without sense of purpose within the clever framework of Moza Saracho's appropriately cartoonish scenic design. Moreover, Dora's revelation that her parents are sexual creatures carries little weight, and the scenes between Dora and Boss (played with forced chipperness by Jim Noonan) and Woman (given a marvelously jaded quality by Kathryn Kates) feel curiously extraneous to the entire exercise.