by Ron Cohen · January 10, 2015
Bruch Reed, Marek Pavlovski | Carol Rosegg
In Body of Words, Vincent Sessa has written a perplexing puzzle of a play. It‘s cluttered with seemingly random exposition and philosophical detours and yet often compelling in its examination of the loneliness -- or rather the aloneness -- and the mistrust and yearning for self-justification that can afflict the human condition -- or more specifically, the masculine mystique. Furthermore, the writing has an admirable boldness, but it’s a boldness, too, that almost borders on exploitation of the script’s thick homoerotic atmosphere.
At the drama’s start, two men, one probably in his late teens or early twenties, and a somewhat older but not old fellow, are lying in bed, and judging by the younger one’s quiet moaning, they have just completed a sex act. We learn that the two have met only earlier that evening on a beach, and now they are in a barebones beach house rented by the older man. His own home is further off on a point above the water, and he says he is returning there after a long time away.
We further discover that the older guy, Norman, has paid a thousand dollars to perform five acts of oral sex on the young man, named Boyd. The act just completed is the fourth one. Norman is also offering five hundred dollars more if he can take the sex further, an offer which Boyd steadfastly and belligerently refuses. The play has plenty of graphic sex talk along with moments of nudity.
Looking for a connection beyond sex and sexuality (and while waiting for what Boyd refers to as the last “pop,”) the two detail their personal histories. Boyd talks about his absent military father, the loose morals of his mother, and how he himself is scheduled to join the U.S. Marines in the morning. Norman lists the highly varied and often rugged careers he has followed, and describes himself currently as “a sort of field explorer -- the archeology of language.“ He is, in fact, on a hunt for the rock in which the first word ever spoken has been embedded. He has a penchant for the esoteric and philosophical conundrums: “Time lives on borrowed time,” he says at one point.
As they talk, and they do like to talk, a portent of violence seems to hang in the air, and it occasionally breaks out into fits of wrestling, fisticuffs and even the emergence of hidden weapons. The play ends with a more quiet act of tragedy, but it only occurs after Sessa hints that the two men may have a much closer connection than they suspected. The hint depends on an improbable turn of plot and remains even more tricky because Sessa leaves it uncertain.
Publicity for the play says it is evocative of the homecoming of Odysseus, but the conclusion put me in mind of another Greek tale about a fellow named Oedipus.
Director John Michael DiResta imbues Sessa’s script with a smart sense of varied pacing, and the two actors -- Bruch Reed as Norman and Marek Pavlovski as Boyd -- validate the roles with convincing emotional heft, although Reed seems a touch too vibrant for the supposedly world-weary Norman. The two performers also deserve bravos for the intense concentration they bring to their work, despite the close quarters of their playing space within the Theater for the New City.
Sessa is a forceful playwright. His A Child’s Guide to Innocence, which was produced in 2005 by New Jersey Rep and depicts with great empathy three generations of Italian-American women, is a play I have long admired. Much of that empathy is apparent in Body of Words, although here he seems to have let those words, along with an ambiguous conclusion, derail to some extent the storytelling.