Love for Sale -- The Escort Opens at Westwood's Geffen Playhouse

I don't think I'm a prude. I am a mature, relatively sophisticated white male who has traveled widely, seen almost everything and been almost everywhere. I have been married three times and had numerous relationships with many women both here and abroad over the years. I have seen explicit sex shows in pre-Castro 1950's Cuba and as an American soldier visiting the sleazy haunts of Tijuana. Visited brothels in Paris (just researching the film, Belle de Jour) and was at the Broadway opening of the nudity-filled Oh, Calcutta and the equally-nude musical, Hair. Believe in free speech, almost no censorship, the First Amendment... all of the above. And yet I was shocked, even stunned, by the play The Escort, which opened last night at Westwood's Geffen Playhouse. By the way, I loved it! I think it is one of the most engaging, interesting and finest depictions of sexual relations I have ever encountered in the theatre.

Maggie Siff (left) plays the high-class call girl, while Polly Draper (right) plays her gynecologist. Photo by Michael Lamont for the Geffen.

In its press material, the Geffen said:

Nothing is taboo in this world premiere about a high-class call girl. Charlotte is charged with escorting us through this titillating tale as members of one seemingly liberal family test the limits of their own sexual morality. What happens when social ideals are in direct conflict with personal choices in the bedroom! While the provocative new Geffen commission is laced with sex, bad language and nudity, don't expect some bawdy farce from this Emmy and Ovation Award-winning writer. This sexually-charged roller coaster ride takes us down a path of unexpected thoughtfulness and depth that asks the question: How far are you willing to go to prove your open-mindedness?

Repeated gynecological exams on stage is a first (to my knowledge) for the theatre. Photo by Michael Lamont for the Geffen.

My answer to the last query is... pretty far. So as I reflected upon the production and my reaction to it, I realized that I was bringing my old-fashioned and somewhat antiquated values to a brilliant new work which should be applauded and seen by anyone who wants to boot up for the 21st century before being overwhelmed by it. As the subtitle of the work says, "An Explicit Play for Discriminating People." Playwright Jane Anderson previously had a play here at the Geffen's smaller theatre, and The Quality of Life was powerful and somewhat depressing... about cancer, fire, suicide and death. In a recent Los Angeles Times interview, she says, "I wanted to have fun with this one." Well, her play about the relationship between the call girl, played by Maggie Siff (Mad Men -- she played the department store heiress who has an affair with Don Draper) and her gynecologist, played by Polly Draper (Thirtysomething) is not a fun-filled vehicle (although wildly funny at times), but it sure is attention-grabbing, if the heated dialogue in the lobby afterward means anything. I should note that James Eckhouse (Beverly Hills 90210) doubles as the doctor's self-righteous liberal ex-husband and one of the call girl's johns, while a talented young actor, Gabriel Sunday (Taking Woodstock) plays the doctor's manipulative teenage son. As the Los Angeles Times wrote today in a rather ludicrous article about how they substituted a flesh-toned swim suit (with nipples) for Charlotte's actual nudity, "The Escort takes off where the shock of nudity and sex usually end." The Times earlier had written that Anderson, a confirmed lesbian in a monogamous relationship, said "I didn't want to write a frivolous play about sexuality. As a middle-aged mother who has a son who is 16 now and has watched him come into his sexuality, you start to view sex in a different way than you did when you were in your 20s."

And as Playbill says, "THE ESCORT combines two of the world's oldest professions, theatre and prostitution." In this case, I think they blend well. So I do strongly recommend this provocative, stimulating work, with the admonition that I would not take your children or your elderly parents to it unless they are more mature than I expect. But I do suggest that every Broadway producer try to grab it for the New York stage, because it is destined to live in our minds and hearts for a long, long time.

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