Theater Review: THE ESCORT by Jane Anderson (L.A. – Westwood)

by Harvey Perr on April 9, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

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WHERE’S A TOUGH-MINDED AND PROLETARIAN WHORE WHEN YOU NEED ONE?

The most interesting thing about Jane Anderson’s The Escort is the revelation that a Cadillac call girl takes on the attitudes of her high-rolling customers and, to her, as well as to her male consort, a client who takes her to a room at a Hyatt instead of a top-ranked hotel is a mere piker. We should have been given a clue early on when Charlotte, the prostitute in question, tells the male members of the audience that if they can afford a theater ticket, they can probably afford her services. Is she making a comment on the high price of theater tickets? Or does she simply have some information on the upscale, middlebrow audience she is addressing? At any rate, when she tells one of her clients, a doctor with both a pedigree and ready cash, that he isn’t worthy of her because she knows some really generous spenders, it is hard not to wonder why we should be interested in her at all. There was at least one member of the audience who wasn’t. I wouldn’t want to be in bed with her if she paid me. That Charlotte happens to be highly educated and wears nicely tailored clothes over her sexy lingerie doesn’t cut any ice with me. You know what I mean? Just spending two hours in her company had proved more than enough for one disgruntled customer.

The Escort by Jane Anderson at the Geffen in Los AngelesThat she’s a real cutie, especially as portrayed by the deliciously talented Maggie Siff, is also a little off-putting. When she turned on the “adorables” in her confrontation with the audience just before intermission and someone in the audience said, “Isn’t she cute?,” I had to ask if perhaps she hadn’t gone a little too far. I was already having trouble with the little drama Charlotte was setting into motion with Rhona, her gynecologist (the excellent Polly Draper), Rhona’s 13-year-old son (the lively Gabriel Sunday, who also doubles quite persuasively as a male prostie)  as well as Rhona’s husband (James Eckhouse), the above-mentioned doctor. It seemed like so much sitcom plotting.

The Escort by Jane Anderson at the Geffen in Los AngelesThings do get a little serious as the play progresses. Every side of the play’s central issue  – what we really think about sex in its every possible form – is thrown into the mix. Not much of it gets dealt with in what one might call a complex manner – the writing is slick and fairly conventional, going for titillation where in-depth probing might have proved infinitely more engaging. And, by the end, much of it is a jumble of provocative ideas to which there is little resolution or meaningful consequence. And, as I said, when Charlotte revealed herself to be a bit of snob, she and the play lost whatever grip they may have had on me.

The Escort by Jane Anderson at the Geffen in Los AngelesThe actors are all good, especially Ms. Siff, and Lisa Peterson’s staging is fairly fluid, but, when Eckhouse (in one of a variety of roles he’s called upon to play) goes into his snooty gay waiter shtick, coming so soon after a wild caricature in Burn This, I couldn’t help but think that our major theaters are gleefully reviving gay stereotypes. As for those much talked-about body suits that substitute for naked bodies, they create more amusement (and, in the case of the male body suit, outright laughter) than erotic arousal.

The Escort by Jane Anderson at the Geffen in Los AngelesNone of this would matter if the play, even in comic terms, had proved to be more serious in its concerns. Of course, when push comes to shove, all one’s confusions about sex are linked to one’s loneliness. Just listen to the hush that comes over the audience at the mere mention of the word “loneliness.”  The Escort is clued into the audience’s most obvious perceptions, and, rather than shake them up, Ms. Anderson ultimately comforts and reassures them. Maybe going to the theater and going to a whore is pretty much the same thing.

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Michael Lamont

The Escort
scheduled to close May 8 at time of publication
for tickets, visit http://geffenplayhouse.com

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