by SOPHIE KERMAN
What’s in a number? Well, when it comes to sex, numbers can mean a heck of a lot. Ian MacAllister-McDonald‘s The Sexual Life of Savages begins when Hal discovers that he and his girlfriend Jean are numerically mismatched – where he has had 7 sexual encounters, Jean’s number may be up beyond 25 – and the conflict over what is appropriate sexual conduct just escalates from there.
Conflicts over sexual mores are common in many real-life relationships, but Hal is particularly unable to stomach what he sees as his girlfriend’s lack of standards. Herein lie the two central conflicts of the play: first, what does it mean to be sex positive? and second, what is the appropriate way to respond when you find your own lines being crossed? (Hint: no one in this play does a particularly good job at establishing their boundaries in a respectful way.)
The fact that Sexual Life of Savages, the Walking Shadow Theatre Company‘s 2013-4 season opener, is able to ask these questions in such a thought-provoking way is due entirely to MacAllister-MacDonald’s realistic characterizations, Amy Rummenie‘s fine direction (she makes the 2+ hours fly by) and the spot-on performances by all five actors. As Hal, Joe Bombard manages to say some inexcusable things without losing the audience’s sympathy, and Meghan Kreidler gets to the core of Jean’s strength and personal conviction. As Hal’s swinging friend Clark, Nicholas Leeman strikes just the right balance of exuberant sexual bravado and affection for his friend, while Megan Dowd is sharp as Naomi and Clare Parme plays Alice’s awkwardness with an earnestness that belies her character’s eventual revelations.
It also helps that Sexual Life moves at the quick pace of a sitcom and has a sense of humor that will trick you into forgetting how provocative the play really is. This show is unquestionably for adults only, and particularly for adults who have given some consideration to their own sexual values. Between the laughs, you may find yourself pondering a number of philosophical and moral questions about both the characters and the script itself. For instance, some audience members may find it problematic that the play uses its female characters to bring about greater tolerance on the part of the man; other viewers might pick up on the script’s relative lack of sympathy for those who choose to have fewer sexual partners. As some characters are forced to defend their lifestyles while others are not, you will find yourself wanting to keep talking about the complex web of judgments that both you and the characters will inevitably make.
In the end, Sexual Life doesn’t deliver a verdict on quantity, quality, or what really “counts” when it comes to sex. For all five characters, what really matters is personal compatibility. As each individual discovers where they draw the line, you may ask yourself the very same questions they do.
The Sexual Life of Savages, by Ian MacAllister-McDonald. Directed by Amy Rummenie. November 22 – December 14, 2013 at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 West Franklin Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets $10-22. More information at http://www.walkingshadowcompany.org/.