By Richard Ades
The NSA’s Guide to Sex and Love has one big problem: the script. Don Zolidis’s would-be satire is a leaden flight of fancy that hops from one topic to the next with all the finesse of an oversized sledge hammer.
Partially making up for this weakness is the fact that it’s sexy as hell, particularly as it’s staged in MadLab’s world-premiere production. Working under Stephen Woosley’s direction, the seven-member cast eagerly throws itself into all manner of seductions, fantasies and other erotic situations.
The actors’ energy is particularly impressive considering what they have to work with. It’s easy to be committed to a quality script, but it takes guts to commit yourself to this hit-or-mostly-miss collection of jokes and set pieces.
Sometimes the punchlines come and go before we can figure out what their point was. When the National Security Agency proclaims that ferret owners tend to become suicide bombers, are we supposed to interpret this as a knock at ferret owners or at the government’s flawed methods of data analysis? Who knows?
Adding to the confusion is an overall framework that can only be described as “stream of consciousness”—or, more accurately, “stream of unconsciousness.” After introducing itself as a “TED Talk” led by NSA representatives Tom and Gabrielle (Scott Douglas Wilson and Colleen Dunne), the play jumps around among such topics as hooking up, marriage and gay sex.
The weird premise is that the NSA wants to use its data to improve citizens’ love lives. It then proceeds to help pair up two couples: Dan (Casey May) with Alana (Laura Spires), and Daisy (Alanna G. Rex) with Chuck (Scott Clay). Assistance is provided by the silent Agent Lance (Lance Atkinson).
Dunne and Wilson work the hardest as Gabrielle and Tom, who fiercely defend the importance of NSA espionage when they’re not sniping at each other over gender issues. May and Spires are more low-key as Dan, a man afflicted by awkward come-ons and premature ejaculation, and Alana, the woman he sets his sights on.
As the other lovebirds, Clay nicely underplays the frumpy Chuck while Rex effortlessly exudes class as Daisy—perhaps too effortlessly in terms of projection, as some of her lines were barely audible at Thursday’s preview performance. The odd couple is fun to watch during escapades such as their attempt to spice up their love life by playing characters from Game of Thrones.
Brendan Michna’s set design mostly consists of a bed, a sofa and several large, hanging discs that can be lit up at opportune moments. Jonathan Calig’s slide show augments the action by projecting information supposedly provided by the NSA.
Though political satire is obviously Zolidis’s main aim, the play delves nearly as much into the politics of gender. The latter subject is attacked with slightly more subtlety than the former, but with little more originality. In the playwright’s view, men are as simple-minded as they are single-minded, while women are devoted to two things: relationships (starting them) and chores (getting men to do them). Few laughs result from such musty observations.
On the other hand, viewers in the proper frame of mind may well get a libidinous lift from the couples’ more carnal interactions. That makes the play, for all its flaws, a nice choice for date night. Just remember to leave the kids at home.
The NSA’s Guide to Sex and Love continues through April 9 at MadLab Theatre and Gallery, 227 N. Third St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Tickets are $15, $13 students/seniors, $10 members. 614-221-5418 or madlab.net.