Natalie Rine, Contributing Critic - New York City
“I just think there's something really sexy about being watched.”
So says Lauren, the zealous protagonist of Recognize Theatre’s equally zealous devised play “Exposed,” which opened Friday night at the MCS Theatre.
The devised play, being performed after four years of development, is directed and conceived by Kristin Heckler, written in collaboration with the actors Jacob Sebastian Phillips, Sarah Raimondi, and Pauline Sherrow. As written by the team and embodied by Ms. Raimondi, Lauren propels the piece with a relentless passion for self-discovery and freedom of self in a world that stifles and suffocates women’s sexuality at every turn. A college freshman, Lauren decides to pursue her desire for sexual freedom by making adult films to pay for her tuition when her father is laid off shortly after her first semester begins. Intriguing questions about the role of her religious upbringing and the crushing cost of college in today’s society are brushed upon in the exposition; however, these polarizing subjects tease the audience like foreplay that never quite satisfies, staying superficial throughout the trials and tribulations of Lauren’s decisions while the main focus is on her personal relationships and subsequent fallout after her secret internet occupation is revealed.
Raimondi’s turbo-charged effervescence gives way to an incredibly nuanced, powerful performance wherein we see Lauren’s journey up close and personal. And thanks to riveting performances by Phillips and Sherrow, it’s just as easy to identify with those she alienates as with those she enchants along her way.
In the enchanted camp are Lauren’s college friends Autumn and Jamie, quirky yet as well-meaning as any eighteen-year-olds thrust on their own for the first time could be. On the other hand are Lauren’s Mom and Dad, torn between stern religion and watching their baby make choices they couldn’t have dreamed of. Both of these (and more!) sets of characters are effortlessly played by Phillips and Sherrow. And from the fractious family talks that begin the play to the squad prepping taking place around college frat outings, the group scenes are often infused with a realism that brings to mind the amiably, mutually annoyed characters of a sitcom wherein it is easy to laugh at the absurdity of a situation until the vulnerability and honesty of the script shocks you. For much of the production, there’s a disconnect between the characters’ endearing surface eccentricities and their more corrosive discontent; after all, every character, not just Lauren, is suffering by different societal restraints on gender, sexuality, and class at any given moment throughout the piece. And your awareness of that tonal contradiction buzzes faintly, mosquito-like, throughout.
The minuscule black box space of the MCS Theatre is the perfect playing area for this production, accentuating the plainness of the set and the minimal boundary between spectator and performer. Simple squares loosely decorate the walls, a subtle almost Mondrian abstract distraction while the most prominent feature resides on the side wall: a woman’s silhouette in a red circle— harmless by definition yet somehow provocative.
Ms. Heckler’s direction and the ensemble’s script are equal parts shockingly brave and vulnerable, a raw dissection of one girl’s decisions magnifying a nation’s sickness. The dialogue in the show is lifted from interviews with, tweets at, and scenes of female pornstars and the effortless juxtaposition of different formats from monologues to sound clips to choreographed interpretive porn scenes elucidate the team’s overall creative mastery. By the end of the performance, ideas of spectatorship and ownership of one’s body and others’ are swirling, begging for further action and acknowledgment by the audience long after the curtain goes down.
“Exposed” is directed by Kristin Heckler and written in collaboration with the actors, Jacob Sebastian Philips, Sarah Raimondi, and Pauline Sherrow.
The design team includes Sara Christopher (Lighting Designer) and Emily Auciello (Sound Designer).
“Exposed” runs at the MCS Theatre (357 West 36th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, 2nd floor), February 8-24. Tickets for “Exposed” ($20; $15 students & seniors) are available for purchase in advance at https://exposed.bpt.me or by calling (917) 426-2381. The performance runs approximately 85 minutes with no intermission.
Photo: Promo – Sarah Raimondi. Photo Credit: Kyle Mencel