Your Mother’s Copy of the Kama Sutra is a title much like the play itself?less saucy and more cumbersome than it should be. Playwright Kirk Lynn, whose incendiary adaptation of the comic strip Get Your War On for the Rude Mechanicals signaled the emergence of a great satirist, here employs frank language and adult situations to talk about the dangerous thresholds people cross in the quest for total intimacy with each other. But while the behavior on stage may cause a slight blush in the faces of subscribers to Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons, where the show is running through May 11, Kirk’s script contains no dark ironies or edgy surprises. Despite punchy dialogue and a few much-appreciated segues into the ludicrous, it is not as tough or as naughty as it thinks it is.
The play begins with a blindfolded man (Chris Stack) feeling his way around the carpeted interior of a furnitureless living room as his girlfriend (Zoë Sophia Garcia) teases him both mentally and bodily. They concoct a plan to re-create each of their individual sexual experiences with each other?the good, the bad, and the ugly. And at the end they’ll get married. Meanwhile, two teenagers (Ismenia Mendes and Maxx Brawer) are recovering from a roofie-induced sexual assault at a house party. The parallel narratives split time in the play’s first act, echoing each other in a way reminiscent of Jennifer Egan’s exquisite novel of hereditary loneliness A Visit from the Goon Squad. It’s almost a disappointment when the two threads come together in the second act, giving way to hammy scenes of a father scolding his child with shouted lines like, ”I was a teenager! I was messed up ninety per cent of the time!”
Director Anne Kaufmann (Detroit) cannot seem to find a center of gravity, using the stage’s immense width to cast long, expressionistic shadows but also quarantining half of the play’s scenes all the way in the far right wing. The strategic use of Doctor Who theme music as a cue for oral sex is an amusing touch, but it’s a reminder of how seldom Kama Sutra fully embraces its bonkers premise.
Among the cast, Rebecca Henderson best embodies the play’s duality of boldness and vulnerability. Playing a stock character, the wise and sassy best friend, she manages to spin a clever line into something imbued with pathos. Upon examining her voluminous ring of keys, she blurts, ”I own a lot of stuff” with just the right hint of resignation about life’s many accumulations. As the coolest thing in a rather nerdy play?not to mention the sexiest thing in a play about sex?she is good enough to make one wish Your Mother’s Copy of the Kama Sutra was all about her. C+