TWO LONELY LIARS IN A BIG SAD CITY…
Here’s a curiosity worth catching: the only full play by Norris Church Mailer, widow of Norman Mailer (who greatly admired it). It was born at the Actors’ Studio and is directed by another veteran American legend, Sondra Lee. The two players are also transatlantic: Peter Tate, who was so impressive in American Justice at the Arts, and Lauren Fox, an award-winning NYC cabaret performer. You could say that it taps right in to a particular New York neurosis and a particular time – 1985, the height of the AIDS epidemic.
But Mailer is too subtle a writer to leave it pinned down in time and place: literal as it is, tracing an odd-couple relationship over a few weeks, it has eternal echoes of myth. Tate plays a cultural anthropologist in his fifties, balding and scholarly. Making notes for a book he goes to a “sex booth” where behind one-way glass – she can’t see him – the scantily clad Fox preens, poses, and talks dirty to clients while they masturbate. A dollar a minute – the punter must keep pushing the money through or the light goes off (the tiny theatre is imaginatively papered on three sides with luxuriant giant red flowers, half-savage and half-seedy).
The girl is truculent, brittle, practised, appearing in her glass box in a variety of wigs and props. In several sessions he gets some kind of a life story out of her, about youth in Texas and seducing the local preacher – all very Tennessee Williams. Eventually he graphically tells of his own homosexual experiences in a tribe of Papua New Guinea cannibal headhunters.
But the twist is that in between booth sessions he has managed to be knocked over by her bicycle as she cycles home in sweatpants and good-girl hair. Scraping acquaintance through his scraped knee, he begins to date her. She has no idea it is the man from the booth; he pretends to be an out-of-town businessman (though unable to remember whether he said Indianapolis and Minneapolis). In return he gets a more respectable version of her own life, as a doctor’s daughter and Vogue model.
The clever thing is that until the dénouement you are never sure whether this is a classic Shakespearian wooing-in-disguise myth, or very creepy indeed, borderline Hitchcock. Tate, battered and unsmiling, carries the double possibility brilliantly; Lauren Fox moves between her brittle sex-doll persona and the real vulnerable girl cooking gumbo in her little flat and hoping for marriage. Until he gives himself away, and it all explodes into sad, credible angry confusion. And an acknowledgement that it is never just sex that answers the deepest need, but intimacy. Even between liars.
Box office 0207 478 0160