“It’s Just Sex!” – Hit play in a (mostly) all-Black version

LOS ANGELES – It’s Just Sex! is much more than just a lot of fun. This one-acter, written by Jeff Gould, is a witty, insightful sexploration of sexuality, as well as of love, relationships, marriage, monogamy, wife (and husband!) swapping, sexual dysfunction and more. An excellent ensemble deftly directed by Rick Shaw presents a highly enjoyable, thought-provoking night at the theatre.

The premise is simple: Three upwardly mobile, thirtyish couples get together for a party and, shall we say, things just spiral out of control. Since Sex! was originally presented in 2002 at the Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks, in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, like sex itself, there have been many iterations of the 90-minute show at a variety of venues around L.A. and beyond, including runs in Athens (Greece) and Off-Broadway.

What distinguishes the current production at the aptly named Secret Rose Theatre in the NoHo Arts District is that it’s an all-Black (and brown!) production. Claiming a venerable tradition, like Historically Black Colleges, the all-Black show falls into roughly two categories. The first are productions that were originally conceived as having all- or mostly-Black casts. These have generally been musicals, such as Porgy and Bess and Cabin in the Sky, a musical play which was adapted for the screen in 1943, co-directed by Vincente Minnelli and Busby Berkeley, starring Ethel Waters, Rochester and Lena Horne (who also headlined 1943’s likewise all-ebony Stormy Weather, co-starring Bojangles and Cab Calloway).

The other type of all-Black show is an adaptation of a show generally performed by non-Black actors (playing non-Black characters), utilizing nontraditional casting. Otto Preminger’s 1954 Carmen Jones, with a book by Oscar Hammerstein II, adapted Georges Bizet’s 1875 classic, Spain-set opera Carmen and re-envisioned it in (what was then) modern times in the U.S., starring Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll.

It’s Just Sex! falls into this latter category. Having not seen any of the earlier renditions of Sex!, I can’t exactly tell how this all-Black production differs from its predecessors. Is the colorful casting just a gimmick or is it more meaningful? Does it add a new, deeper dimension? A new spin? It’s hard for this virgin reviewer to know. But one thing is for sure: This show surely sizzles.

It is also, strictly speaking, not an all-Black production. Kimberly Green plays Joan, who is identified during the course of Sex! as being Puerto Rican (with the obligatory stereotypical reference to hot Latina chicks). According to her IMDB.com listing Green is half Puerto Rican and half Korean. Talk about Seoul on ice! In any case, like the rest of the cast, she does a fab job in the comedic and dramatic scenes – and also has great legs.

Which leads to another question: Nudity and sex on the live stage. For ages sexplicit scenes were illegal, but now that nudity and depictions of sexuality are no longer barred onstage and onscreen, how do directors, playwrights and actors take advantage – or not – of this greater freedom? The naked truth is there is actually little, if any, nudity per se in Sex! However, there is a knee-slapping sequence making the best (and most hilarious) use of screens, silhouettes and shadows since I saw wayang kulit (shadow puppet plays) in Bali. Bravo to all involved, including skillful lighting designer Skylar Johnson!

Karimah Westbrook (Badasssss, The Rum Diary) as Lisa has an exquisite visage: Watching her face for an hour and a half is alone worth the price of admission. She is as beautiful as she is expressive, as Lisa emasculates her belittled husband Greg (Jeremy Walker), who, shall we say, ultimately rises to the occasion and turns the tables in this play that is also about power plays and struggles in an era of changing male-female relationships, when gender roles are shifting and females may out-earn their male mates.

The rest of the attractive cast is spot on: Marie-Francoise Theodore as Joan, the spurned wife who begins the party’s festivities by insisting that the six friends play an ultra-honest game. As Carl, David Haley (the Actors’ Gang’s 1984; TV’s Justified, Jane the Virgin, Sons of Anarchy) was my favorite character (probably because Carl is a writer!). Caz Harleaux plays Phil, and Denise Milfort is Amanda, the hooker (Amanda Alexander alternates in this steamy part).

Sex! reveals and revels in the notion that when it comes to sensuality, one size doesn’t fit all. And viva la difference! Although bluenoses suffering from Comstockery may be put off by the candid conversation and goings on, most heterosexual adult theatergoers are likely to want to light up a cigarette after this rollicking play – even if they don’t smoke.

And after this all-Black production, one can only imagine what’s next for this oft-produced play. Putting ethnic jokes and stereotypes aside, how about an all-LGBT production – that will debut in North Carolina! Hey, keep cool, y’all in bible thumper land – it’s just sex!

It’s Just Sex! is being performed through June 5 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 7:00 pm at the Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood 91601. For more info: (818) 762-2272; www.itsjustsexplay.com.

Southern California theatergoers should remember that the 23rd annual Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival and the City of West Hollywood are presenting Encore! A Day of Theatre starting at 12:00 pm on April 30 at The Actor’s Company, 916 N. Formosa Ave., West Hollywood 90046. Performances include Sandy Brown’s Oh, Yes She Did! For schedule information see www.lawtf.org or call (818) 760-0408.

Ed Rampell’s interview with filmmaker Michael Moore appears in the March issue of The Progressive magazine.


CONTRIBUTOR

Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Film historian and critic Ed Rampell was named after CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow because of his TV exposes of Sen. Joe McCarthy. Rampell majored in cinema at New York's Hunter College. After graduating, he lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, where he reported on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific movement for "20/20," Reuters, AP, Radio Australia, Newsweek, etc. He went on to co-write "The Finger" column for New Times L.A. and has written for many other publications, including Variety, Mother Jones, The Nation, Islands, L.A. Times, L.A. Daily News, Written By, The Progressive, The Guardian, The Financial Times, and AlterNet.

Rampell appears in the 2005 Australian documentary "Hula Girls, Imagining Paradise." He co-authored two books on Pacific Island politics, as well as two film histories: "Made In Paradise, Hollywood's Films of Hawaii and the South Seas" and "Pearl Harbor in the Movies." Rampell is the author of "Progressive Hollywood, A People's Film History of the United States." He is a co-founder of the James Agee Cinema Circle and one of L.A.'s most prolific film/theatre/opera reviewers.

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