Don't ever play cards with Suzanne Bachner. This is a playwright with aces up her sleeve and a first-rate poker face. In the beginning of her new play Sex Ed, she seems content to amuse the audience with cute stories of adolescent angst. But by the end of the show Bachner turns the tables and ups the stakes, lulling her viewers into a false sense of security before leading them down an unexpected path. This is playwriting of the craftiest kind - sharp, unpredictable, shrewd. Indeed, stay away from Bachner if she is playing cards. But don't miss her if she is writing plays.
The 45-minute Sex Ed begins with a sixth-grader's most uncomfortable situation - a sex-education class taught by a trio of dorky (and equally embarrassed) adults. Intercut throughout the class are scenes from the school days of three preteens who suffer detention, make mischief, and risk truth-or-dares. But what at first appears to be a series of amusing, even trite vignettes gradually grows more threatening, exposing the dangers as well as the charms of grade-school naiveté.
Playing both the teachers and students, John Houfe, Alex McCord, and Danny Wiseman made their character changes seem effortless. As uneasy adults laboring to teach the class and as curious youths struggling to understand their bodies, the actors handled their roles with energy and aplomb. Bachner, who also directed, moved the three around the bare stage with ease, focusing attention on characterization rather than props or scenery.
Sex Ed is not without flaws. Occasionally the abundance of 'like,' 'duh,' and other kidspeak threatens to make the dialogue a parody rather than a representation. But overall Bachner's confident writing packs a punch, proving itself multi-layered under the guise of conventionality. Even her choices of cheesy period music, from the story's setting in 1984, begin with innocent pop songs before shifting to sharper-edged, more symbolic tunes.
Although you may have found yourself cringing at such classes in grade school, this Sex Ed is a course worth attending. For the sake of preserving the plot line, suffice to say each scene, whether corny or menacing, holds a small surprise that makes the show even more effective in its entirety. (And it may be the only play where you leave with a condom as well as a program). Go see Bachner's Sex Ed. Just don't invite her to any of your card games.
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Copyright 2001 Ken Jaworowski