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Sexual Healing

Jonathan Leaf's clumsy drama appears to be based on the life and work of sex researchers Masters and Johnson. logo
Sayra Player, Peter O'Connor, Judith Hawking, and
Sarah Nina Hayon in Sexual Healing
(© Joshua Freiwald)
Prominently included in the program for Jonathan Leaf's clumsy drama, Sexual Healing, now at Theatre 3, is the familiar disclaimer that goes "any similarity between characters depicted in this play and actual persons, living or dead, is strictly coincidental." But don't you believe it.

There's little question that Leaf's two focal characters, William "Bill" Munson (Chuck Montgomery) and Desiree Novak (Judith Hawking), are extremely reminiscent of the late William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, the authors of the best-sellers Human Sexual Response and Human Sexual Inadequacy. He even cribs from the pair's personal life, having Munson and Novak marry after they'd worked together for several years and then divorcing several years after that, just as Masters and Johnson did.

None of this would be as noteworthy if the stage tale he'd spun from the basics of their story was illuminating in one way or another. But that isn't the case with the play, which begins as something quasi-comedic that might be titled No Repressed Sex, Please, We're American and then very slowly and protractedly evolves into one woman's awakening to not only sexual but emotional understanding of relationships between men and women.

The woman is Novak, who looks back to her initial interview with Munson and -- as the two fall for each other -- fills in how she executed sundry other lab tasks that included filming 279 couples having sexual intercourse. Along the way, her sincere and increasingly reflective asides to the audience are supplemented by incidents that unfolded throughout the arduous, always seriously-intended research.

Unfortunately, certain early scenes don't register as serious, such as a clinic appointment with a malfunctioning couple, the Danzigers (Peter O'Connor and Sarah Nina Hayon), at which Munson prescribes fellatio as helpful stimulant and lab worker Eleanor Diaz (Sayra Player) prepares to demonstrate. Later, Diaz and her husband sue Munson and Novak for reasons that aren't made clear, and excerpts from a trial requiring testimony from Munson and Novak is slotted in. Eventually, the married researchers experience decreasing sexual interest themselves, leading to Munson dallying with a younger staffer, and Novak catches them in what's usually termed in flagrante delicto.

While the cast -- directed by Leaf, who might have done better if he'd turned the job over to someone with an objective eye -- labors long and hard in vain and sometimes in embarrassing situations, Sexual Healing never really rises to the occasion.

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