Mutant Sex Party
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 7, 2005
Mutant Sex Party is about a high-powered American politician who is involved with a male prostitute. In the first scene, we watch the former command the latter to humiliate him verbally—S&M without the whips and chains. "You know what I've done," John (the john) tells Clay (the hustler), and then he begs Clay to batter him with words.
There's an interesting and very complicated relationship to explore here; I was immediately curious about the power dynamic—John wants Clay to beat him up, at least figuratively, but he's still calling all the shots and paying the bill—and also about the element of hypocrisy, for John is presented as a powerful figure in the current administration, and what we see him do here—hire a prostitute (a male prostitute at that), ingest cocaine, drink a great deal, swear incessantly—presumably contradicts what his constituents think he stands for. There's also the tantalizing question of what Clay knows that we thus far do not: what has John done to make him feel so guilty?
But the direction that playwright Edward Manning takes his play reveals very little about any of these provocative subjects. Instead, we learn that John is being investigated for an insider trading scheme (apparently similar to the recent Martha Stewart debacle), and, later, that he is the target of a gargantuan left-wing conspiracy to eliminate "dinosaurs" like him from the government. This latter plot development, Ludlamesque in ambition and audacity, feels both unwarranted and implausible. More detrimentally, it reduces what could have been a fascinating study of power, sex, hypocrisy, and the intricate linkages among them, to a by-the-numbers thriller. Character is sacrificed for plot; and the plot isn't exciting or believable enough to make us forgive the exchange.
Tom Demenkoff (John) and Eric Van Wyck (Clay) work hard to make the two men they portray vivid and fully-formed, but Manning leaves out too many details and supplies too many other arbitrary ones for them to succeed. For example, John gets a long monologue about how much he liked having sex with young women when he was in college and another one about how he made some troublesome relatives disappear. None of this information jives with the man we see, who is on some level at the mercy of a less well-educated man to whom he is, apparently, sexually attracted.
Indeed, the treatment of sex and sexuality in Mutant Sex Party is murky and disturbing. Why has Manning chosen a gay relationship at the center of his play? There is no evidence that either John or Clay actually is gay; no evidence (except a fleeting reference to one blow job, long ago) that they ever have sex. John could hire a dominatrix to humiliate him, if that's what he gets off on; but it's ultimately not even clear that he does get off on it. In the end, the Sex in Mutant Sex Party feels like a red herring, designed to lure us in, but having no bearing on the outcome of the story. (The Mutant designation is even more troubling: are John and/or Clay mutants because they (might) like having sex with men? Because they pay/get paid for it?)
An epilogue, in which the two men meet up years later and admit that they love one another suggests the play that Mutant Sex Party might have been. Alas, it's an ending that feels tacked on to this one; love would seem to have very little to do with what happens in this disappointing work.