Sex Lives of Our Parents

"Sex Lives of Our Parents" smartly showcases the play's absurdist style and casts the kind of pros who can pull it off.

Elliot/Nurse - Teddy Bergman
Charlotte - Lisa Emery
Christopher - Daniel Jenkins
Virginia - Virginia Kull
Jeff/Rodney - Ben Rappaport
Henry/Lucas - Mark Zeisler

Any young scribe who attempts to work in an experimental theatrical form deserves to be cut some slack. Second Stage Uptown does right by Michael Mitnick with a workshop production of “Sex Lives of Our Parents” that smartly showcases the play’s absurdist style and casts the kind of pros who can pull it off. That said, this comic fantasy about a young woman who pokes around in her parents’ marital history is too low on wit and limited in purpose to entertain anyone outside of the playwright — and possibly his friends and family.

Virginia Kull (the self-assured thesp who plays Virginia) and Ben Rappaport (star of NBC’s “Outsourced,” playing Jeff) are terrifically appealing as young lovers teetering on the brink of marriage — if Virginia’s attack of nervous ambivalence doesn’t derail the nuptials her parents are eagerly planning.

Helmer Davis McCallum’s savvy casting of these lovebirds proves crucial, since the will-they-or-won’t-they factor is the only thing that legitimately passes for dramatic tension in this whimsical show.

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Unlike Virginia and Jeff, who keep their realistic identities throughout the uncanny proceedings, Virginia’s parents, Charlotte (Lisa Emery) and Christopher (Daniel Jenkins), not only play it straight as a stodgy suburban couple but also keep one foot in the alternate universe of Virginia’s fantasies about them.

Emery (memorable in “A Kind of Alaska”) lends her unfailing grace and intelligence to Charlotte, who initially appears in her daughter’s dreams as a little girl who was traumatized (or prematurely sexualized) when she surprised her parents as they were having energetic sex in their bedroom. As Virginia’s elaborate fantasies (or prescient visions) become more revealing, Emery gamely plays Charlotte as a teenaged sexpot, a gifted musical prodigy, and a disappointed young woman in love.

Jessica Ford’s amusing costumes help Jenkins get through the less flattering character changes, from nerd to nobody, that Virginia inflicts on her father. And while Teddy Bergman veers into parody as Jeff’s best friend Elliot, he’s a funny distraction when it becomes obvious that the play has no real point to make.

Sex Lives of Our Parents

Second Stage Uptown; 99 seats; $50 top

Production: A Second Stage Theater presentation of a play in one act by Michael Mitnick. Directed by Davis McCallum.

Creative: Sets, Andromache Chalfant; costumes, Jessica Ford; lighting, Tyler Micoleau; sound, Jill BC Du Boff; production stage manager, Winnie Y. Lok. Reviewed June 21, 2011. Opened June 22. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Elliot/Nurse - Teddy Bergman
Charlotte - Lisa Emery
Christopher - Daniel Jenkins
Virginia - Virginia Kull
Jeff/Rodney - Ben Rappaport
Henry/Lucas - Mark Zeisler

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