If it’s true that even bad sex is good, then the revival of Chiara Atik’s 2015 comedy “5 Times in One Night” at Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken adds that even good sex can be awkward, embarrassing, complicated, dangerous and, of course, funny.
Subtitled “A Hilarious Exploration of Sex Through the Ages,” “5 Times” is actually five short one-act plays that take us from Creation to a post-apocalyptic future. Nathaniel Kent and Kelsey Roberts play all the roles. He’s schlubby, chubby and bearded; she’s pert, perky and petite. Together, they personify Woody Allen’s observation that “men learn to love the woman they are attracted to; women learn to become attracted to the man they fall in love with.”
The set represents the walls of what looks like a fairy-tale cottage covered with twisting vines, with a few simple pieces of furniture. The actors step outside those walls to change clothes between each act, providing the audience a chance to take a breath and reset its collective imagination. In fact, some of the best moments of the evening come in these interludes. Kent and Roberts have a wonderful chemistry and bring a beaming enthusiasm to the moments when they’re changing across the stage from one another and getting ready for the next scene. You can tell they’re really excited and enjoying every minute, and that can’t help but be infectious.
The first act takes place in the near future, inside the bunker of Mel and Djuna, the only two people left alive after a nuclear holocaust. They’re surviving, but independently. Mel suggests that they might want to think about having sex so they can repopulate the planet. Djuna wonders how the math of that would work (“we’d need to have at least two kids, and then they …”), but also, she’s just not into him “that way.” The humor comes from the fact that even after society has destroyed itself, he’s still bound by 21st Century boundaries; there’s no one left to care, but he doesn’t want to come off as an uncool cad. They eventually reawaken their sex drive by imagining the mundane sounds of civilization they once took for granted, like the annoying buzz of a lawnmower or the rhythmic whoosh of sprinklers.
The second sketch, set in a contemporary apartment, has Kent and Roberts playing a couple who hooked up and then broke up; now she’s pregnant and about to have an abortion, and they’re keeping each other company until they go to the clinic in the morning. She wants to have sex; he thinks that would be weird. He’s willing to take responsibility for the baby; she wants no part of motherhood. She loves him; he’s not that into her. Neither wants to hurt the other, yet they’re both hurting deeply.
In the third (and my favorite) sketch, the couple portray the legendary lovers Abelard and Heloise, whose 12th Century correspondence is delivered like modern day text messages. The play has fun juxtaposing medieval mores with modern slang, and the actors are truly delightful, even if the star-crossed romance ends up with poor Abelard castrated and alone, and Heloise exiled to a nunnery.
Another contemporary sketch portrays a happily married couple whose sex life has hit a slump. She suggests rough sex; his #MeToo sensibility can’t deal with the idea of hitting or choking her, even consensually.
Since the first sketch presented the end of time, it’s only fitting that the last sketch takes us back to the dawn of Creation, as we watch Adam and Eve literally invent sex. This is the bawdiest act of the night, and the funniest as well. Melissa Firlit’s sharp direction finds our couple discovering all sorts of inventive positions, rolling on the floor as they bite and lick each other and realize where those weird parts each has fit together.
The Mile Square Theatre always satisfies with its comedies. I saw Roberts there not too long ago in the theater’s holiday production, “A Merry Little Christmas Carol,” which put a clever spin on the Dickens classic. Similarly, “5 Times in One Night” delivers a breezy 90 minutes of giggles and guffaws — quality theater at a budget price.
Woody Allen also said, “life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television.” This production mimics good television: The chemistry of “Will And Grace,” the physical comedy of “I Love Lucy,” the pratfalls and foibles of “Seinfeld.” And theater beats television every time. What’s not to like?
Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken presents “5 Times in One Night” on Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. through March 15. Visit milesquaretheatre.org.
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