Gay Walch's "Heterosexuals in Crisis" are people we've known for quite some time, anxious young marrieds in New York puzzling their lives and relationships -- the sort that Stephen Sondheim sent up in his 1970 musical "Company." But if "Heterosexuals in Crisis" is any kind of accurate companion piece to the millennial TV summer of "Survivor" and "Big Brother," this new urban class, forged in the fake empathy and self-absorption of the Clinton era, is a horrible bunch to be around.

Gay Walch’s “Heterosexuals in Crisis” are people we’ve known for quite some time, anxious young marrieds in New York puzzling their lives and relationships — the sort that Stephen Sondheim sent up in his 1970 musical “Company.” But if “Heterosexuals in Crisis” is any kind of accurate companion piece to the millennial TV summer of “Survivor” and “Big Brother,” this new urban class, forged in the fake empathy and self-absorption of the Clinton era, is a horrible bunch to be around.

Walch’s group consists of two couples and their flighty “affirmation specialist,” Fran (Monica Lundry). In the first of five scenes, we meet Peter (Abner Genece) and Barbara (Cyndi Martino). His sexual performance anxiety is so virulent that it easily fills up eight significant loss categories as numbered in Section B of the New York Times. Only after Barbara smartly counters each of his confessional fears does Peter seem happy.

In scene two we meet Roger (Nicholas Cascone) and Sylvia (Ellen Treanor). He wants to have a child (we meet him breast-feeding a football). She thinks “a child is another human being who is a disappointment,” and in any case is quick to remind him of “how you unconsciously make use of me to block your desires.” There isn’t anything Roger can say that she doesn’t twist and examine and patch into “the way we interact.” Two minutes of Sylvia lets you understand how a guy can step out for a pack of cigarettes and disappear for 30 years.

But Sylvia is far from alone as a fountain of tortuous psychobabble; when Fran works Sylvia’s mirrors in an affirmation exercise, you half expect Stuart Smalley to pop out and say, “I’m good enough and smart enough and doggone it, people like me.”

As satire, some of this is funny. But a little goes a long way, and if these people weren’t so fundamentally repellent and even stupid beneath their knowing surfaces, we might be touched by their desperate inability to connect.

There is one breath of life, when Sylvia says, “I have to love myself before I can love a kid,” and Barbara counters with, in effect, “Who said so?” Are we trapped, she asks, in some kind of semiotic morass that has no meaning outside of its own circular references? The question is a good and probing one, but Walch backs away from its provocation and her chance at writing a strong play.

As an actor in the piece, Nicholas Cascone’s direction is, like the characters, overindulgent, though in Lundry’s skewering voice you’ll recognize a put-upon type, a woman to whom the earth’s very air is a pestilential vapor.

Mercifully brief, “Heterosexuals in Crisis” does show what our culture of narcissism has lost by way of social grace and underscores that blurting out your every innermost thought can be just as damaging to your mate as the confession of an adulterous affair.

Heterosexuals in Crisis

Santa Monica Playhouse; 88 seats; $20

Production

A Santa Monica Playhouse presentation of a comedy in one act, written by Gay Walch. Director, Nicholas Cascone.

Creative

Lighting and set, James Cooper; sound, the Attic Room; music, James J. Venable. Opened Aug. 19, 2000, reviewed Aug. 22. Running time: 1 HOUR 15 MIN.

Cast

With: Nicholas Cascone, Abner Genece, Monica Lundry, Cyndi Martino, Ellen Treanor.
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