Tony and Pulitzer prize winner Bruce Norris does not shy away from controversial plays that makes audiences think…and talk. That's exactly what I wanted to do after seeing his latest work The Qualms finishing up their run this week at Playwrights Horizons. The moment the show was done, I wished for a theater play club that I could sit with others and discuss what we had just witnessed.
On the surface, the play seems like a regular comedy; newlyweds Chris and Kristy (played wonderfully by Jeremy Shamos and Sarah Goldberg) attending a swingers party at the home of Gary and Teri (the charming John Procaccino and Kate Arrington); a perfect setup for disaster of dropping outsiders into a world they don't know. However this play is much more than an evening of titillation for theater-goers looking for a sex-romp comedy. It is smart, dark, and very thought-provoking. People may walk into the play believing they know exactly how they feel about a certain situation, but Norris has played both sides of this lifestyle and completely challenges your thoughts. Instead of making it black and white about how you feel about monogamy, the play brings in conversations about war, freedom, property, jealousy, and so much more.
I love Jeremy Shamos as an actor in everything I see him do. He plays 'every man' in such a way that you cheer for him even when he says things you may not agree with. I've read reviews that called his character of Chris as the a$$hole of the show, but I tend to disagree. Sure, he says things that are very unkind, but he's also struggling with the entire concept - even though he obviously is intrigued or he wouldn't be at the party. I actually see the character of Roger (played perfectly smuggly by Noah Emmerich) as the alpha dog pushing Chris's buttons. With Chris, you feel his desire to try something new, yet his constant struggle with his own personal moral code. Even as his pressure breaks and his rants grow, he continues to return because some part of him is still interested (I don't believe it's all about his desire to be correct and convert the others in the room). Shamos is perfect showing that growth, that boiling over, and an exasperated man who has dropped down the rabbit hole and not sure he truly wants to get out.
The entire diverse ensemble is greatly acted with Donna Lynne Champlin, Andy Lucien and Chinasa Ogbuagu rounding out the couples. Pam McKinnon has directed this piece in a way that makes you feel every single moment taking place. We are a part of the evening - the funny moments and those that are uncomfortable. The play takes place in real time which also adds to the intimacy of the entire thing.
I've always thought I was a pretty open-minded person and believe I can't impart my rules on others. Yet I also found myself judging characters within the show at different moments. If you can get a ticket before it closes and want to open your mind to a dialogue, get to 42nd street and see this show…then join our theater club to discuss what you witnessed. See if you leave feeling the same way you did when you walked in.