Review: Sexual Perversity in Chicago

Caroline Hodges reviews Sexual Perversity in Chicago, David Mamet’s controversial play produced by Living Pictures Productions.

Having done my research before going to see Sexual Perversity in Chicago at Sherman Cymru, I knew that Matthew Perry had starred in the original. Being a 90s kid and therefore an obligatory Friends fanatic I had high hopes for the show. Upon entering the theatre, we were seated around a hexagonal metal ‘cage’. The play was performed ‘in the round’, meaning that the audience were seated all around the performance space. Unfortunately, the seating was uncomfortable, particularly as half of the audiences were placed on ‘mats’ – essentially sitting on the floor. Despite being interesting theatrically, my back was not a fan of this seating arrangement.

Sexual Perversity in Chicago is an episodic play, following the love and sex lives of two men and two women. In particular, it focuses on the relationship between two of them – Dan and Deborah – in all its gory details with commentary from their friends – the unashamed and foul-mouthed Bernie and the deadpan Joan. The play had a Brechtian feel to it, in the sense that all the actors, set and costume changes were on stage at all times with three filing cabinets used to portray all furniture, as well as to store all the props used in the production. This sort of openness of course means that the actors must be in character at all times and I was impressed by how well they managed this. When they were not needed on stage, each actor would return to a spot around the performance space to prepare for their next scene, which meant they were often sitting amongst the audience.

Despite not being shy myself, the play was at times uncomfortable to watch in its frank and explicit discussion of sex, love and life. The actors themselves, though good performers, felt a little old for the roles they were cast in and as a result the play was slightly cringey at times, particularly during Bernie’s monologues. That being said, the individual performances were good – particularly that of Joan, whose blatant sarcasm, brutal honesty and straight-faced frank delivery was the real highlight of the show for me. Although at times uncomfortable to watch and potentially scarring, Bernie’s scenes were full of energy and tenacity and the actors playing Dan and Deborah were both funny, touching and incredibly true in their portrayal of a seemingly perfect relationship gone wrong.

Sexual Perversity in Chicago is not a play for the faint-hearted. In my case, though I enjoyed the performance in terms of the acting and arrangement, the production itself fell outside of my sense of humour. However, in theatre, it’s never a bad thing to have your boundaries tested and I would recommend Sexual Perversity for that reason. If you decide to go and see it, make sure you prepare for what I can only describe as an interesting evening.

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Caroline Hodges

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