There comes a time in a hyper-masculine alpha gay's life when he begins to wonder what it would be like to take a break from the driver's seat and swing his legs over to the passenger side. That's what the man at the center of David Rhodes' play Consent is facing (though he doesn't know it) when he meets a young studly fellow on a New York subway platform.
Filled with bare-chested, bare-buttocked scenes of simulated sex and all-too-real S&M acts, Consent, now playing at the Black Box Theatre at The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, takes a sometimes funny, sometimes scary look at a gay "father-son" relationship and at the problems that arise when feelings of intimacy enter the equation. Add to this titillating tale a dynamic performance by Orange Is the New Black's Catherine Curtin, and you have some must-see queer theater (a good choice for those who'll be in town for Gay Pride Week).
Architect and former NFL star Ron (Mark McCullough Thomas) has always felt in control of things. Famous and well-off, he used to be married with children, but that's all over now. He's divorcing his needy, micromanaging wife, Susie (Angela Pierce), has acknowledged his gay self, and has taken up with sexually insatiable Yale law student Kurt (Michael Goldstein). As the two fool around, Kurt awakens instincts in Ron that he never knew he had. Then things escalate sexually, and Ron begins to question his identity as he feels control over his life slipping away when Kurt starts playing really dirty. Ron has only his sister, Emily (Curtin), to help him come to terms with who he really is, what he's done, and how he can move on.
McCullough Thomas, with his salt-and-pepper hair and chiseled physique, excels as the successful man who still hides some deep desires in the closet. There's a palpable chemistry between him and his costar Goldstein. Their violent sex sessions literally smack with realism (no fake stage combat here), and they're made even more intense by the intimate confines of the Black Box theater. Pierce plays Ron's ex-wife with an air of sexual and emotional frustration that resonates when Susie reminds Ron he's been neglecting his real son while allowing his life to unravel because of his pretend one.
But it's Curtin who delivers the performance of the show as Emily. Her bewilderment at Ron's retelling of his episodes with Kurt gets some of the biggest laughs, yet suddenly she sheds tears of love for Ron, the younger brother who has lost his way. Orange fans won't want to miss her in this role.
Playwright Rhodes' script sometimes slips into cliché, but he directs the production with a steady hand, building suspense throughout with short, intense scenes separated by garish yet effective lighting pyrotechnics (designed by John Eckert) and heart-pounding music (sound design by Chad Raines). All in all, Consent makes for an entertaining, stimulating 100 minutes of theater. It's unlikely that anyone will walk away feeling they've learned nothing new, if only that the proper way to consent is not "Yes" but "Yes, sir!"
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