The back story of Mating Habits, by R. J. Tsarov, is only implied. But, it's as funny in its way as the play itself -- which is to say, very funny.
At some point in the past, the leading character -- identified in the playbill as "Man" -- realized that what he really needs to be sexually aroused is ... well, here I run into the age-old critical dilemma of giving away the joke if I tell too much. In any case, what he needs might be considered immoral, disgusting and/or perverted by the more conventional segment of the population.
Perhaps Man came to his realization while engaged in sex. If so, was his partner (for the sake of consistency, we'll call her "Woman") willing to indulge him? Or was she indignant? There's no way we can know. At some happy moment, however, Man learned that his desires, however dubious they might seem, are shared by at least one other living creature, the octopus.
Of course, it is possible that Man learned about the sex life of octopi first. And it was that bit of scientific knowledge that turned him on.
Mating Habits is a short comic sketch. Playwright Tsarov (who has always shown a grasp of the uses of suspense) keeps the back story to himself. The fun of the play lies in the way Man attempts to find a willing lady. He takes his potential inamorati to the octopus tank in the aquarium.
"Even the octopus, with its unusual mating habits, has something to teach us," he says, in a desperate attempt to take his intended victim's mind off lunch in general -- and off sushi, in particular -- since the connection the girls make has more to do with raw fish than potency and pleasure. Although, in fairness to the damsels, Man brings them to the aquarium on their lunch break.
At any rate, Nick Thompson is a personable and amusing Man, while Lisa Picone, Sandra Moorman, Jessie Terrebonne, Ashley Ricord and Jane Catalanello create contrasting gals, each funny in her way. Director Sean Patterson has done lots of comedy himself, including improv. He keeps the pace lively and gets many laughs.
If Mating Habits is the appetizer, Things I've Done is the main course in this Tsarov collation. While the playwright's mordant sense of humor comes through often, one would be hard pressed to call this longer play a comedy. Violence, crime and neuroses lurk in a dark, sordid landscape (captured with brilliant simplicity by a David Raphel set that is shabby and elegant at the same time).
Things I've Done follows a lowlife hood, J.P. (an impressive, volcanic Jerry Lee Leighton) and his assistant, Chet (Andy English). J.P. is a sort of enforcer, working for a loan shark. He is a tortured soul, full of repressed rage. He brings along the lesser criminal Chet "like a reference point" to keep him on track, while he plies his trade, which is getting people to sign some bogus legal papers as quickly as possible. This simple act must be accomplished in the home of the person who borrowed the money -- a squalid transaction in a squalid abode. J.P. catalogues the many possible obstacles to accomplishing his aim in a hilarious diatribe, culminating in the horrible prophecy: "The place may reek of baby shit!" Baby shit is not the only oddment of the normal world to vibrate with weird force in this tale. The script is also haunted by Social Security numbers, tattoos, agoraphobia, Persian rugs and 911 emergency operators, among other things.
Things I've Done is a grimly entertaining dystopian crime story that holds your interest because the writing is skillful and the cast plays with conviction. Carol Sutton, Lisa Picone, Ashley Ricord and Jessie Terrebone are the memorable women attached to or victimized by the men. Carl Walker directed with his usual fine ear for language and mood. Su Gonczy provided the excellent lighting and projections. Jason Knobloch provided the effective sound design. Local Tsarov supporters (who are legion and tend to be on the youthful side) won't want to miss this bizarre treat. But it's also an opportunity for one of our premier playwrights to win new fans.
- Man (Nick Thompson) tries to figure out Woman (Jessie Terrebonne) in R.J. Tsarov's short comic sketch Mating Habits, at Le Chat Noir.