[The following contains spoilers.]
Although usually friendly towards feminism, Tychy is sick to the back teeth with women’s rights at this year’s Fringe. It seems that every day there is a different rape, or another virtuous heroine who has been bulled, raped, threatened with rape, adorned with a Scarlet Letter, “executed for sodomy,” or hanged for witchcraft. This finally reached its nadir yesterday with “Nirbhaya”: verbatim theatre performed by Indian women who had been literally raped and tortured by their husbands. Half of the audience wept like scullery maids at a Methodist camp meeting.
What a pleasant surprise, therefore, to find that one of the most refreshing and vivid shows at this year’s Fringe is essentially a feminist satire. From the poster it appears that Matt Morillo’s “The Inventor and the Escort” is theatre for stag parties, but this play would actually cause a stag party to droop and shrivel up. The blurb describes it as “delightfully raunchy” and “a highly enjoyable romp,” but “The Inventor and the Escort” is not clowning about. It is quietly serious in its conviction that buying and selling sex is immoral.
“The Inventor and the Escort” is presently playing at the Gilded Balloon. It was originally the first act of a two-act play which was set in a Manhattan tenement. We have lost the characters and events upstairs, but we retain the tale of Jeffrey who lives in the apartment downstairs.
Jeffrey (Jaret Sacrey) is the dorky “inventor” of performance-enhancing sexual devices. Professor Calculus would take his hat off to these contraptions (if cunnilingus had existed in his world), but their inventor is an emotional cripple rather than a sexual maestro. He is a nice guy and when moralising, he sounds decidedly like Kermit the Frog. Yet all of his sexual paraphernalia and meticulously-staged roleplaying will only erect a world of abject artificiality. On a Long Island beach, a girl had once laughed at him and called him fat. Years later, on a winter’s evening in his Manhattan apartment, he has the money and power to reconstruct this scene with the help of an escort (Jessica Moreno). There may now be inflatable palm trees and parrots, but this time there will be a happy ending.
This is not really about sex, but rather the quest for authenticity. In one of the play’s most powerful scenes, Jeffrey is seated beside the skimpily-clad Julia, completely engrossed in his own sadness. We may guiltily put from our minds the thoughts of what we would do to Julia if we were in the same circumstances as him. Or at least save them for later.
“The Inventor and the Escort” is a bit too apologetic about its likeness to the 1990 blockbuster “Pretty Woman,” but we find the same Hollywood soppiness at its heart. The idea of a prostitute and client learning to love each other may seem like an inadequate man’s fantasy, but this play largely gets away with it. The satire is often remorseless and yet its sadness is profound.
It seems far more plausible that Jeffrey would invent an oven-mitten to assist with handjobs than that his sympathy could cause a hardened prostitute to crack and tell him everything about her life. Two-thirds of the way into this play and it begins to groan. Our uneasiness does not necessarily result from a lack of realism: Julia may chat away like this every time that she wolfs down Margaritas. If these two go through the revelations of the first six months of a relationship in ten minutes, perhaps they will have forgotten each other by the following morning.
Julia took to prostitution with the gusto of an entrepreneur, but when she leaves it at the age of thirty, she will have no future. This is a successful feminist play because its demands are clear and simple. It wants to sweep away the objectification of women and replace it with something more authentic: romance. The play is wrapped up powerfully, but we still get to keep the fairytale ending. Julia throws away thousands of dollars because she does not want to be paid to be loved. Happily, when she asks to be loved, Jeffrey will have thousands of dollars.