Clare Barron’s Kinky, Envelope-Pushing Drama

In a recent interview with the New York Times, playwright Clare Barron described her new play as “semi-autobiographical.” Watching “Shhhh,” which opened Monday at the Atlantic Theater Company’s Stage 2, you will be asking yourself where “semi” ends and “autobiographical” begins. The dialogue is the most sexually graphic of any play now on stage in New York — or recent memory, for that matter. “Shhhh” is, by turns, funny and creepy, and to amplify her extraordinary derring-do, Barron also directs and plays Shareen, one of the two lead roles.

Shareen has an older sister who is called Witchy Witch, and as performed by the always-inspired Constance Shulman, Witchy Witch is a name that doesn’t do this character justice. Besides the usual wiccan stuff of nasty potions and scary black costumes, Shareen’s sister makes Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response videos (the play begins mysteriously with one of these), hooks a girlfriend (Janice Amaya) up to a shock machine (don’t ask), terrorizes Shareen’s ex-boyfriend Kyle (Greg Keller) in various ways and delivers mail for the U.S. Post Office.

That last bit is the most concerning, if you think about it for a moment. Witchy Witch enjoys entering private vestibules and being alone there before she finally gets around to delivering packages and letters, one of which she has kept for the last 20 years.

“Shhhh” is all about intimacy, and in that obsession, Shareen shares a bond with her more overtly provocative sister. She eavesdrops at the local pizzeria as two other young women (Nina Grollman and Annie Fang, being amusingly jaded) trade stories about men’s reluctance to wear condoms, which hasn’t interrupted their respective sex life to any appreciable degree. Listening to their talk about male toxicity, Shareen gets so excited that when her ex finally shows up to share a whole pizza pie, she must ask him for a favor. Shareen is so ashamed that she has to whisper it into his ear.

How to describe what happens next? Let’s just say that UnkleDave’s Fight House more than earns their salary as the production’s intimacy coordinator. The scene takes us back to a moment early in “Shhhh” when Kyle tells Shareen a story about a boating accident in which a man’s arm is skinned and his leg is broken. The talk here is as graphic as the sex talk to come. At first, it looks like Kyle is merely sitting on the toilet, using it as a chair. But when he stands and pulls up his underwear, he thanks Shareen for letting him use her bathroom to pee. To pee? Apparently, not all men signed up to follow the male-toxicity orders.

“Shhhh” tells a long, raunchy shaggy dog story in which two sisters ask to be trusted in the most intimate situations possible without their ever being really intimate with anyone, except maybe each other. The faux familiarity even extends to Arnulfo Maldonado’s set, with its stage-floor mattresses, which is part of the seating arrangement at Atlantic’s basement Stage 2. Those theatergoers who indulge in that seating arrangement receive complimentary coat-checking services.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap’s lead theater critic, has worked as an editor at Life, Us Weekly and Variety. His books include “The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson,” “Party Animals,” and “Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange, How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos.” His latest book, “Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne,” is now in paperback.

https://www.thewrap.com/shhhh-theater-review-clare-barron-kinky/ Clare Barron’s Kinky, Envelope-Pushing Drama

Curtis Crabtree

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