Reckless boudoir chatter unites the three frisky couples in first-time playwright Peter Ackerman’s bedroom farce about the hazards of analyzing Freudian slips in the dark. While striving to seem daring, even dangerous in its appraisal of romantic relations, “Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight” lacks the stylish savagery of Patrick Marber’s “Closer,” a comedy that goes much deeper into the land-mined territory of sexual desire. Ackerman’s script is really nothing more than an urban twentysomething sitcom. John Rando’s antic production can’t compensate for the superficial vision, though his actors’ erotic hijinx have a kind of mindlessly zany appeal.
In the heat of an extremely exuberant lovemaking session, Nancy (Erin Dilly) calls her boyfriend Ben (Mark Kassen) “a hook-nose Jew.” Obviously, their dirty talk has crossed a boundary, though it’s only after the two have settled down to cuddling that difficult questions arise.
Does the fact that Ben is Jewish make a difference in their relationship? Is Nancy a closet anti-Semite or is she just afraid of being strung along?
Most disturbing, however, is Ben’s conclusion that one person can never truly know another. To illustrate his point he raises the hypothetical possibility of his being bisexual — a notion that sets his girlfriend running out into the New York streets without taxi fare at 3 in the morning.
Meanwhile, Nancy’s best friend Grace (Clea Lewis) has her own bedtime dilemma with her latest lover, Gene (Jeffrey Donovan), a neurotically insecure Mafia hitman who wants to be appreciated more for his mind than his body. Before he’ll concede to another round of sex, he demands that she teach him a little something about art history — clearly the last thing on her maniacal, one-track mind.
When Nancy turns up in the middle of the night with the news that Ben might be gay, Grace does the only advisable thing under the farcical circumstances: she calls her newly licensed therapist Mark (Andrew Benator), who recently fixed her up with his mobster brother Gene. The escalating sexual confusion turns into a free-associative conference call ineptly led by Mark that includes his geriatric gay lover Mr. Abramson (Nichoas Kepros), who doesn’t take too kindly to the report of Nancy’s ethnic slur, and Ben, who insists to everyone’s disbelief that he’s 100% straight.
Ackerman sets in motion a witty set of cross-purposes, though his treatment is less clever than his premise. The humor is broad and not terribly fresh, and few of the laughs have a lingering resonance. It’s the kind of material that evaporates from the mind almost within seconds of its presentation.
Still, it’s relatively painless stuff and the actors work hard to amuse. As the put-upon male lovers, Donovan and Kassen arrive at a somewhat more effective balance between reality and farce than their female co-stars. Dressed in perfectly pressed pajamas, Donovan makes an oddly winning impression as the compulsively neat gunman.
Lewis (known to many as Audrey on the now defunct TV series “Ellen”) hits one too many shrill notes in her portrait of the college-educated nymphomaniac, though she turns in an otherwise splashy, crowd-pleasing performance. As the flummoxed girlfriend, Dilly manages to be simultaneously sweet and sour, though her character’s last-minute sentimental tears seem sorely out of place.
Rando’s knockabout approach to the production, though long on yocks, is decidedly short on panache. Nowhere is this more evident than in Rob Odoriso’s set design. Three beds pop out of a checkerboard wall upholstered in Gypsy colors, and decorated with little toy Statue of Liberties and hanging slides of the New York skyline. Not only is the space poorly utilized, but the tacky ambiance suggests an hourly rate motel in midtown.
But while “Things You Shouldn’t Say” may not leave a lasting impression, its breezy, undemanding nature could translate into lucrative Off Broadway summer fare.