Contempt is a theatrical one-night-stand worth calling again
by Drew Rowsome- photos by John Gundy
Like the fabled hooker - make that sex surrogate/sexologist - with a heart of gold, Contempt offers a theatrical transaction but then delivers so much more. It teases taboos, and they are abundantly provided, but by the finale - a giddy satirical musical number that winks nastily while packing such an emotional punch that I am still trying to wrap my head around it - one sobs with ecstatic joy and sheer nihilistic horror.
Contempt sets four characters in search of sex and love despite being damned by the curse of being human. It begins as a tightly-written hysterically funny and titillating sitcom premise: a mother negotiates the services of a sex surrogate for her paralyzed adult son. Over tea and tarts, the two talk and the humour, and the symbols, emerge naturally from their interaction. A brief musical interlude echoes a very funny texting sequence (complete with explicit hard cock shot) before Contempt launches into a raunchy comic sex farce exploring how one loves another who uses their sexuality as a job. And how one uses their sex organs as a work tool without losing track of one's heart.
And that is the foreplay: Contempt escalates from there.
Playwright/director Brandon Crone (Donors, Maypole Rose, Nature of the Beast) delights in confounding expectations and the plot, and all of the characters, are surprising, twisted and achingly real. There are laughs, drama, even a touch of melodrama, and finally that astonishing climax. Serious themes and ideas lurk everywhere but one is carried along so rapidly and capably by the energy of the writing and emotions, that it is a visceral rather than an intellectual experience. The motifs and the broadsides surface afterwards, a little afterglow after a raucous, loving, and a little rough, fuck.
The actors inhabit their roles completely and fearlessly, moving seamlessly from harsh reality to flippant fantasy. Marcia Johnson is a hissable villain who is impossible not to love. Her mother love is all-encompassing and all destructive, but her atrocious double entendres, her infectious laugh, and her indomitable joy, creates a monstre sacré. She is trapped in an impossible situation and not only making the best of it, but making sure that the sexuality she has repressed is expressed by her shell of a son. Johnson is hilarious and frightening, daffy and dangerous, and so seamless that one forgets she is acting, this mother just is.
Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah is casually sexy and alarmingly fragile. Her journey is the least flashy but is rock solid, and she makes the unbelievable believable. Her scenes opposite Prince Amponsah - who is allowed to act only with his eyes and breath and somehow still manages to express complexity and soul - are filled with suspense as she struggles to understand him while tripping over everything that she is projecting onto his deceptively blank surface. Roberts-Abdullah carefully builds her character to her graceful epiphany, Amponsah's is a bolt of lightning with explosive force.
Benjamin Blais (Shrew, Cockfight) smirks, struts, bares his butt, pouts, seduces, begs, and is malevolently menacing, all while being relatable. He is the sexy bratty bad boy you can't help but hate to love, an inverse monstre sacré. He appears to be having a blast being fearless, careening in complete control from irresistibly exuberant to horrifyingly loathsome. And that is the heart of gold in the full service, around the world if you want it Contempt, the characters are so utterly, gloriously, grossly human. Contempt is the ideal theatrical one-night-stand: laughs, intense passion, everyone gets off, and even through the mushy stuff, the thrust of the writing never goes soft.