Atlantic Stage 2 proves to be more than just a pretty new face on the block. As home to Atlantic Theater Company’s play development projects, the black-box theater provides a trim but fully loaded space for showcasing promising work like “Six Feet Under” scribe Kate Robin’s “Anon.” This dark comedy about sexually addicted men and the doting women who enable them to pursue their nasty fun and games doesn’t feel quite ready for primetime play. But if its schizophrenic nature (part romantic comedy, part social tragedy) can be integrated, this offbeat show could tap into a big femme audience — not to mention whatever sheepish guys they drag along with them.
Helmer Melissa Kievman has cast this problem piece to maximize the curb appeal of its principals — all the better, one would think, to cushion the shock when certain character flaws are later revealed.
As per this coy approach, Trip gives every impression of being your typically charming single guy in your typically dopey TV sitcom. In Remy Auberjonois’ casually underplayed perf, Trip seems innocently smitten with the perky animal behaviorist who comes to his apartment to analyze his misbehaving cat.
Michelle Federer is even more disarming as Allison, the pet shrink, who quickly sizes up the reasons kitty is stressed out. In an adorably earnest speech that would have a lion purring at her feet, she delivers a brisk lecture on how to keep an animal in a contented state of domestication, which means providing loving attention and toys, as well as a clean litter box.
Talk about meeting cute. In no time at all, these two are happily pawing each other, ostensibly on their way to a mutually satisfying romantic relationship. Then, Allison discovers Trip’s extensive pornography collection, a development that takes the play out of its romantic comedy niche and into someplace darker and more dangerous.
Scribe applies the same switcheroo tactics to her treatment of Trip’s father and mother, Bert and Rachelle, introducing them as conventional characters in a domestic comedy scene.
Bill Buell invites laughter as Bert, shuffling around the kitchen and not knowing what to do with himself as a retired man of leisure. His blowsy wife comes close to being a comic caricature of every aging woman fretting about her lost youth and fading sexual appeal. But Caroline Aaron knows this old gal intimately, playing her with such wit and compassion that it’s safe to laugh at her.
Only when Bert’s funny little habits are revealed for what they are — the sick behavior of a bona fide sexual predator — does the play’s dramatic trajectory become clear.
Not that scribe hasn’t been dropping hints left and right, with a series of confessional monologues delivered by women who have been victimized by men like Bert and Trip. But by the time these women regroup at play’s end to welcome Allison into their therapy sessions, “Anon.” has undergone such roller-coaster switches in style that the full impact of their individual speeches has been lost.
Even in dribs and drabs, their contributions to the controversial subject of sex addiction — the so-called “harmless” kind engendered by Internet porn and hard-core movies — are genuinely provocative. But this chorus of voices badly needs to be integrated with more finesse into a piece that otherwise comes off as a light-hearted comedy that that has lost its way in the deep, dark woods of a bigger, better play.