'Carnal Knowledge' chronicles a sexual wasteland

March 19, 1992|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Contributing Writer

An engrossing version of "Carnal Knowledge," Jules Feiffer's sexual play liberally flecked with explicit language, is currently on stage at the Spotlighters Theatre through March 29.

Mr. Feiffer, a well-known social satirist, based this little comedy-drama on his 1971 film which starred Candice Bergen and Jack Nicholson. The movie was notable because of Mr. Nicholson's searing performance as an unscrupulous heel whose only values in life were based on his erotic desires.

There is not much depth to this play. Sexual immaturity (and its amusing and harrowing consequences) is the theme.

The characters are self-indulgent and shallow. They seem to have no other incentives in life other than sex. We never know what makes these men and women tick. Only seeing this one side of human nature is the flaw in Mr. Feiffer's script.

The play, dark at times, is also amusing in the earthbound, bawdy humor that stems from the main character, Jonathan, who cynically judges all women by their anatomical parts.

Director Robert Clingan's approach is admirably simplistic. First-act scenes segue neatly into each other to cover time passages. But the character development here is lacking. Granted these are superficial people but the actors (under the director's guidance) must bring as much motivation and dimension to their roles as possible. Just saying the lines smoothly and cleverly is not enough.

The play covers three decades in the lives of Amhurst College students Jonathan and Sandy. To Jonathan the sexual conquest of the female is everything. Sandy is concerned with sex but has a more esoteric side. He is still a virgin, which he thinks casts doubts about his manhood.

Jonathan becomes Sandy's mentor in the latter's naive courtship of Susan, a bright Smith College girl. Jonathan's ulterior motive is to eventually take her for himself, which he easily does.

Torn between the two, Susan settles for "safe" Sandy and they marry. Jonathan is bitter over this. Hurt and angry, he begins his long descent into sexual debauchery.

In the late '50s, Jonathan finds his ideal woman (who possesses a perfect anatomy) in Bobbie, a young model who yearns to marry him. He refuses. They co-habit and that is the beginning of Bobbie's self-destructive downfall.

Sandy, now an affluent doctor, leaves his wife and children out of sheer boredom and seeks Jonathan's help in finding a sexual playmate. Jonathan gets him a cold, calculating sexpot and once again the threesome pattern is about to be repeated. And Bobbie tries to commit suicide.

In the late '60s, Jonathan, who has married and divorced Bobbie, is again alone, boasting of his endless conquests. In a very funny scene, Sandy, now a flower child who has "found himself," comes in with a teen-age hippie, Daisy. Daisy never says a word. She just stares ambiguously into space.

By this time (after hundreds of licentious encounters) Jonathan has become so jaded he can only find sexual satisfaction with a prostitute who enacts the fantasy script he has written.

There is some psychological reason why Jonathan feels so threatened by women but this is never revealed.

Tony Colavito is a talented young man, but in the scurrilous role of Jonathan he starts out at a such a high peak he has nowhere to go. We should see Jonathan sinking more and more to baseness. There is also a pathetic, underlying desperation to this character which Mr. Colavito does not succeed in conveying.

As Sandy, Joseph Moore turns in a fine performance as he amusingly shows the various stages his character suffers through.

Nguyen-Tu Tucker is a delight as the wordless Daisy. Mandy Kriss gives sweet dimension to her character to Bobbie, but the actress needs to show a wilder disintegration of her character.

Dianne Signiski, although convincing on the surface as Susan, lacks the passion and confusion tearing at the core of Susan's character.

Christy Gasper does well as Sandy's calculating "playmate" and Judy DeDeyn excels in a cameo role as Jonathan's nurturing prostitute.

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