Making choices along the sexual spectrum in three plays

John Sloan and Angela Lin in "Stop Kiss." Photo by Jim Cox.

The politically correct attitude about sexual orientation is that it isn't a choice - or certainly not in most cases. An emphasis on that supposition has helped loosen laws that restrict the rights of those who are primarily oriented toward the same sex.

However, as I examine a few plays that are winding up their latest runs in LA, I get the impression that the playwrights didn't get the memo.

In Diana Son's "Stop Kiss" at Pasadena Playhouse, a young woman who has enjoyed sleeping with a particular man - a former college friend and possible future husband -- turns her attentions and her affections to another woman. This other woman is receptive - she recently ended a seven-year cohabitation with a boyfriend - but that boyfriend is still interested in continuing their hetero romance.

Near the end of the play, the first woman tells the second, in these exact words, "Choose me" - in other words, choose her over the boyfriend of seven years. In a very literal sense, she's talking about choosing the better caregiver (the second woman has been injured in a street crime), but she's clearly also talking about the choice of a romantic partner. Son could hardly be more explicit in indicating that a choice is involved in these decisions.

Patrick Stafford and Rebecca Mozo in "Cock."

Meanwhile, Mike Bartlett's "Cock" at Rogue Machine is entirely based on the notion that a young man is wavering between his older male lover and a brash woman who's closer to his own age. The woman has apparently brought the young man sexual dividends that he enjoys. The performance of "Cock" I attended was followed by a talkback in which members of a bisexual-support organization expressed their appreciation of the play's acknowledgment that bisexuality exists and that it can create difficult choices between lovers of different genders.

Speaking of dramatic choices, a revival of Edward Albee's "The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?" again glimpses the possibility of going outside the species for a sexual partner. This was an especially audacious, well, choice for Los Angeles LGBT Center to produce at its Davidson/Valentini Theatre. Anti-gay zealots have for years suggested that toleration of homosexuality could eventually lead to toleration of bestiality. They could easily claim that Albee is endorsing his character's romance with a goat.

But I doubt that Albee had this in mind when he wrote "The Goat." And I get the impression that this production of "The Goat" emphasizes the opposite argument a little more than previous productions I've seen -- perhaps because the fury of Ann Noble, as the wife who must cope with "the other animal" instead of "the other woman," is so articulate as well as explosive. She makes it quite clear that this man is in fact raping this other creature.

Unfortunately, the authority with which she states her case undermines her husband's case more than usual - which, at least for me, increases the play's implausibility. Albee and director Ken Sawyer maintain such a rigorously realistic style that it's hard to accept the man's account of what is happening between him and Sylvia without hearing a few more explanatory details.

We hear no evidence that this man was ever even attracted to pets in the usual non-sexual ways (A.R. Gurney's play about a pet named "Sylvia" comes to mind here), or that he witnessed a lot of cross-species sex because he grew up on a farm, or that he was unhappy in his marriage. So why would he suddenly begin an affair with a goat? Inquiring minds want to know, but this play doesn't explore this man's motivations deeply enough.

Of course perhaps Albee simply wanted to underline or to satirize the inscrutability of romantic attraction in general by displaying this extreme case. But it's so extreme, and so essentially unexplained, that the play becomes more of a wildly entertaining freak show than an expression of common human feelings.

In "Stop Kiss" and "Cock," however, directors Seema Sueko and Cameron Watson (respectively) and their casts make completely credible their characters' decisions to "switch teams" within the general human league. Although "Stop Kiss" and "Cock" challenge the politically correct LGBT line about choice, perhaps it's time - with the generally greater acceptance of LGBT individuals and their orientations or their "choices" -- that a rigid adherence to that line is no longer so important.

At any rate, from a theatergoer's point of view, "choices" are almost always more dramatically engaging than unchosen "orientations." The evidence of those heightened dramatic stakes is obvious in all three of these productions.

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