The trappings may be different — the main character poses for internet porn — but the theme of innocence corrupted in “1+1” is a familiar one. It’s a “Daisy Miller” for the 21st century.
The play, which was written by Eric Bogosian, is currently being presented in workshop format, with direction by Matt Okin, at the intimate Black Box Performing Arts Center in Englewood. It’s a bare-bones production, with a minimal set (not much beyond a table and a camera tripod). Like previous plays I have seen at this venue, though, (“The Pillowman,” “Fat Men in Skirts”), “1+1” is well acted, thought-provoking and uncompromisingly dark — even if it is more of a realistic slice-of-life than those works.
Katie North plays Brianne, an Arizona native, now living in Los Angeles, who is working as a Steak & Brew waitress but desperately wants to be an actress. One night, she serves Phil (Daniel Yaiullo), a British photographer, who is dining alone. They chat, and flirt. Phil says he’ll take some head shots for her, for free. It’s an offer that’s too good for the struggling Brianne to refuse. And it’s pretty clear she is strongly attracted to him, too, and impressed by his worldliness.
One problem that she is slow to recognize: He’s a manipulative creep. He puts on mellow music for their photo shoot, and gives her marijuana. He flatters her: “You glow … once in a while you find gold.”
Later, he encourages her to pose nude. She resists at first, then gives in. (No nudity is shown in the play.) “Don’t be afraid to let go,” he encourages her. And then, even more creepily, “Look at me as if you love me.”
When he suggests having a friend of his post two of the nude photos on a web site, she resists. He calls her a puritan, and says she is standing in the way of his “art” (i.e., his photography). Ugh. But she gives her consent.
He posts the photos, and they’re very popular. Phil, despite his personal flaws, is good at what he does.
He takes more photos, and the money starts to roll in, fast and furiously. Now lovers, Phil and Brianne devote their newfound wealth to drugs and drink, and become addicted to crack. Their lives spiral out of control.
That’s basically Act 1. Act 2 is five years later. After hitting rock bottom, we learn, Phil left Brianne, cleaned up his act and took a corporate job. He also has gotten married to someone else. His first child will be born soon.
Phil gets in touch with Brianne and arranges a meeting. He wants to make amends. While he seems like a totally different person, Brianne isn’t doing so well.
But does he really want to help Brianne, or does he just want to feel better about himself? What, if anything, will he sacrifice for her? Maybe he hasn’t changed so much, after all.
And is it even possible for him to help her? Just like it is impossible to pull nude photos off the internet once they have been posted to certain sites, it’s impossible to restore innocence, once it has been destroyed.
There is a third character in the play: Nice-guy Carl (Michael Gardiner), Brianne’s co-worker at the Steak & Brew. In the first act, he has a crush on her but finds it hard to muster the courage to ask her on a date. In the second, he is there for her when she needs him, though it’s unclear whether he is doing so as a friend or if their relationship has become romantic to any degree.
It is brought up in the first act that Carl uses internet porn himself, while unaware of Brianne’s burgeoning new career. Bogosian doesn’t do anything more with this subplot, though; this feels like a missed opportunity.
Another quibble: Brianne’s astoundingly quick conquering of the porn world isn’t really plausible. After just two photos of her are posted (to a site where she gets two cents a click), thousands of dollars start to roll in.
Still, Bogosian explores some big themes throughout “1+1.” And this production, despite its physical minimalism, does the play justice.
“1+1” will be presented by the Black Box Performing Arts Center in Englewood through Dec. 5. Visit blackboxpac.com.
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