Reviewed by Ellen Becker
Throughout The Mystery of Love and Sex, the skeleton of a tree is suspended precariously from the ceiling, at times casting its long shadow across the raised white stage, which is pivoted just so to stretch from one corner of the audience back to that ominous, dangling tree.
Charlotte (Contessa Treffone), and Jonny (Thuso Lekwape) have been inseparable since they were 9. Now college age, Charlotte ditches Yale to chase Jonny to a no-name University closer to home. When Charlotte’s parents Howard and Lucinda (Nicholas Papademetriou and Deborah Galanos) visit their dorm for dinner, they interrogate Charlotte about her relationship with Jonny. Charlotte is exceedingly coy, deflecting her parents interventions with “can we not do the Jewish versus Black thing?”
Keeping her cards close to her chest, Charlotte later reveals to Jonny that she has feelings for a girl in her Gender Studies class. This innocent secret begins a fraught process of revelation and retraction. As if to spite herself, soon after this revelation she strips all her clothes off and demands Jonny have sex with her. It takes years to uncover the depth of secrets the pair hold, from each other and from themselves. Under the gaze of the skeleton tree, one repression gives life to another, the many entangled secrets and lies only brought to the fore once severed at the root with a swift revelation.
Director Anthony Skuse is certainly an actor’s director, and has elicited constantly engaging performances from his small cast. Treffone and Lekwape are wonderful as the confused best friends, giving a believable close chemistry that papers over the some of the overwrought conflicts offered by the script. As Charlotte’s ever-concerned parents, Papademetriou and Galanos provide much comic relief, while gradually revealing their own tragic secrets.
While the play’s parallels are a little too neat, it does draw our attention to how our subjectivity can drastically alter the way we respond to the world, and the way the world responds to us. We’re reminded of the incredible strides we’ve taken towards being a more open and accepting society, and how far we still have to go.
Photos by Darlinghurst Theatre Official website