REVIEW: The Censor (Ebb and Flow Theatre)

 

The sex whisperer

Censor 1

   
Ebb and Flow Theatre presents
 
The Censor
   
Written by Anthony Neilson
Directed by
Mike Rice
at
The Basement, 1142 W. Lawrence (map)
through November 20  |  tickets: $10  |  more info

I’ve been to theater in basements before—nice, clean church basements, whose price is right for the cash-strapped theater company. But the setting for Ebb and Flow Theatre’s current production, The Censor, is a basement of an altogether different order—dank, musty, dirty, with an air of eerie abandonment. It’s a basement where you wonder where the bodies are buried. If you are tall, watch your head. Pipes jutting from the fairly low ceiling only contribute to the show’s claustrophobic atmosphere. Ebb and Flow want to give Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson’s play all the subterranean impact they can, given that the play is about our tendency to relegate explicit sex, and all attempts to depict it, to a foul and shame-filled underworld.

Censor 6 Under the direction of Mike Rice, this basement is the office of The Censor (John Gray). He works in the pornography department to which the Board of Classification has consigned him and it serves as a purgatory to which he’s resigned himself. “Do you know what we call this place?” he asks Ms. Fontaine (Geraldine Dulex), creator of the sexually explicit film he is in the process of rating. “It’s called ‘The Shithole’.” At another juncture he confesses, “We’re virtually lepers down here.” It’s his duty to act as society’s guardian, rating the pornography that comes across his desk, protecting the rest of us from its illicit images. Yet simply coming into contact with such material has rendered him a pariah in his co-workers’ eyes.

Ms. Fontaine tries to make The Censor “see” her film as she intended, the story of a love affair depicted in images, not words, using only “the international language of sex.” At first one suspects she’s pulling the tired, old “porn as art” ruse in order to win a less restrictive rating but, first and foremost, Fontaine is a believer. Her attempts to convince The Censor clearly indicate that she is out to obtain converts. As though she were a prophet, seer, or mystic, she then reads The Censor sexually and emotionally, proving her currency with the “language of sex” by accurately guessing his childhood and current marital state without anything divulged from him. Ms. Fontaine becomes the Sex Whisperer to all The Censor’s secret sexual privations, insecurities, and humiliations. Their relationship takes on a therapeutic, as well as pornographic, aspect as he opens up about the true nature of his sexually desiccated day-to-day existence.

Much about Ebb and Flow’s production is enjoyable. Neilson’s dialogue is tight, riveting and often poetic. Rice’s direction moves the action along convincingly and realistically—no small feat for a play that mimics porn scenarios. John Gray’s performance alone is worth the price of admission. He lends meaty depth, humor and humanism to his character’s loneliness, isolation and constant, neurotic desperation to do things correctly. Dulex may have a greater challenge depicting Fontaine, who often comes across as the all-knowing voice of sex and hardly seems human at all. Dulex definitely captures Fontaine’s oddly enigmatic, distanced perspective. For all

the daring with which this messiah engages in sex, the emotional connections are just not there.

 

Censor 2 Censor 4

As for me, I came away from The Censor unconvinced as to its “in-yer-face” daring or authenticity. An award-winning play, The Censor depends just a little too heavily on basing Fontaine’s legitimacy upon her quasi-mystical sexual therapy. The scenario of the wiser, more experienced sexual partner claiming greater knowledge than the inexperienced or repressed initiate—knowing him better than he knows himself—is as old as porn itself. It certainly receives no refreshing or insightful treatment here. Furthermore, the play is hampered by the scattered introduction of The Censor’s wife (Amy Johnson) between the scenes in which Fontaine makes her case about the film. It was almost a relief to see Johnson sit down in an actual scene with Gray. Finally their marital malaise was palpable and thoroughly cemented his ostracization to the porn purgatory he has, essentially, chosen.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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