Intimate human relationships are always a tricky business. Throw a little romance and sex into the mix, and some degree of heartache and pain is almost inevitable. We're built to love, though—most of us, anyway—so there's no sense in whining too much. If we fall flat on our faces, over and over again, we usually have no one to blame but ourselves.
Two theatrical productions currently running in Albuquerque address the pitfalls of romance and sex from two very different angles. A staging of Noel Coward's classic Private Lives at the Cell Theatre spies on the volatile reunion of a divorced couple, Amanda (Jacqueline Reid) and Elyot (Michael Finnegan). This obscenely rich pair meet up again several years after their breakup under the worst possible circumstances: They're honeymooning in the same ritzy French hotel with their new spouses. Awkward! The coincidence immediately sparks a brand new affair, but the couple is soon harshly reminded of why they got divorced in the first place.
Coward's ever-popular play is one of those chatty, vaguely old-fashioned numbers fueled almost entirely by the witty repartee of the two leads. I didn't really warm up to it until the end of the first act, but the noxious chemical bond between Amanda and Elyot becomes stronger—and more destructive—as the action proceeds, and director Laurie Thomas has imposed an appealing sense of contemporary aesthetics on a play originally set in the '20s.
Meanwhile, over at SolArts you'll find a completely different take on romance—if you can call it that—with New Mexico playwright Tom Smith's Dangerous. The play premiered in San Francisco and London. This marks the first time it's been staged in New Mexico.
The script is a very clever reimagining of the movie Dangerous Liaisons, using entirely gay male characters. The translation of this intricate tale of sexual manipulation and betrayal to the homosexual world works shockingly well. Some of the performances here were slightly uneven, but the production in general has a campy entertainment value that's infectious.
Smith's updating of the action to incorporate modern communication technology is particularly ingenious. (The original novel on which the movie was based is related entirely in letters.) Directors Laira Morgan and Christy Lopez work this aspect into their production brilliantly. In other ways, too, fans of the movie will be amused by the almost scene-by-scene reconfiguration of the story from screen to stage.
These two productions aren't going to teach viewers much about the intricacies of love and sex. For the most part, they're designed purely to entertain. Still, there's probably some therapeutic value to be found here somewhere—if only in the relief that comes from realizing that however lousy your own pathetic love life is, these poor saps certainly don't have it any better.