So what’s all the fuss about? Thomas Bradshaw’s latest play for the New Group, Intimacy, is a clever and comical, if occasionally cringeworthy, exploration of contemporary society that focuses on three families living in a close-knit, unidentified wealthy American suburb. James (Daniel Gerroll) found Jesus after his wife’s sudden death, retired from his successful Wall Street job, and is raising his eighteen-year-old son, Matthew (Austin Cauldwell), by himself. James has hired his neighbor Fred (David Anzuelo), an independent contractor, to renovate his house. Fred’s eighteen-year-old daughter, Sarah (Déa Julien), dreams of losing her virginity to Matthew on prom night. Meanwhile, Matthew, who wants to be a filmmaker instead of going to college, is spying on neighbor and fellow eighteen-year-old high schooler Janet (Ella Dershowitz), whose mother, Pat (Laura Esterman), talks to her extremely openly about sex and whose father, Jerry (Keith Randolph Smith), is a mild-mannered gentleman who wants only the best for his little girl. They gossip about who’s cheating on who, worry about school, argue over money, and share lawn tips. It might not quite be Peyton Place, but there’s nothing particularly strange or different about this community. But when one of the characters’ surprising sexual secret is exposed, a whole lot of other exposure follows.
Bradshaw is no stranger to graphic portrayals of sex and violence onstage, as evidenced by such previous works as Burning for the New Group in 2011 and Job at the Flea in 2012. But with Intimacy, the sex and nudity — and there is plenty of both, including frottage, masturbation, footage of real sex, and expertly simulated acts that will have audiences wondering what’s actually going on right in front of them — are only a backdrop for a story about people’s fears and desires, their desperate need to connect with one another, and their deeply embedded addictions and overwhelming sense of shame and guilt. Bradshaw takes on religion, education, racism, the economy, personal privacy in the surveillance age, and other social and political mores in the show, skillfully directed by New Group founding artistic director Scott Elliott. Most of the characters are usually situated in Derek McLane’s suburban interior all at once, with Russell H. Champa’s lighting zeroing in on the specific action taking place on a couch, a bed, a video monitor, a toilet (which does indeed get used), and a desk where many of the characters watch porn and, well, take pleasure in it. And there’s a lot of pleasure being had, judging by all the erections and orgasms. The cast, featuring several members making their professional stage debuts, is, er, clearly having a ball with the edgy material, bravely going where few non-porn actors have gone before. So indeed, what’s all the fuss about? Intimacy is likely to catch people’s attention because of the overt naughtiness happening onstage — the production proudly announces, “This show contains nudity, sex, and bad language. Enjoy!” — but it deserves to get noticed more because it’s damn entertaining, erotic and titillating, realistic and absurd, and very, very funny, coming off as surprisingly natural despite the surreal turn it takes as the climax nears. As an added bonus, select seats in the first two rows are only $25, for those who want to get even more up close and personal with this revealing tale.