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Five Times In One Night

Ciara Atik’s delightful set of one-acts takes a frank look at the motives and consequences behind the world’s most confusing pastime in this Ensemble Studio Theatre/YoungbloodEST production.

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Dylan Dawson and Darcy Fowler in as scene from “Five Times in One Night” (Photo credit: Gerry Goodstein)

Dylan Dawson and Darcy Fowler in as scene from “Five Times in One Night” (Photo credit: Gerry Goodstein)

Daniel J. Lee, Critic

The famous late-Victorian author Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything is about sex except sex; sex is about power.” While he offers little evidence to support  this bold, paradoxical assertion, he has a point: the topic has pervaded media for centuries and the act has been the cause of spousal disputes and wars alike. Five Times in One Night—Chiara Atik’s newest installment to the vast canon of literature, film, and drama discussing the subject—argues that sex is perhaps the most enduring and ubiquitous aspect of human interaction. Playing at the Ensemble Studio Theater through April 19th, this delightful night of one-acts explores the motives and consequences behind the world’s simultaneously most revered and most stigmatized pastime.

Through a series of five two-character scenes, Atik’s play charts the evolution (or lack thereof) of sex in humanity. While one segment depicts Adam and Eve fumbling through their first discovery of intercourse, another shows a pair of apocalypse survivors struggling to repopulate earth.  In between, Atik includes a medieval couple’s epistolary romance, another couple’s post-breakup fling from “last week,” and a third’s inept attempt at exploring fetishes “next week.” Each with their own unique angle, Atik’s five self-contained shorts add up to a heartfelt, whimsical look at the reasons we pursue sex and the means we employ in order to have it.

Dylan Dawson and Darcy Fowler in as scene from “Five Times in One Night” (Photo credit: Gerry Goodstein)

Dylan Dawson and Darcy Fowler in as scene from “Five Times in One Night” (Photo credit: Gerry Goodstein)

While Atik does well to maintain a relatively consistent quality throughout the various worlds she creates, her script is not immune to the common ailment of many one-act conglomerations: the strengths of some scenes serve to highlight the weaknesses in others. Up against the tightly scripted and surprisingly hilarious Adam and Eve story, the comparatively clunky and exposition laden apocalypse scene falls ever so slightly short. This is a minor quibble, however; on the whole, the individual scenarios are engaging, well plotted, and incisively funny.

Thankfully, the generally polished script glistens in the light of RJ Tolan’s illuminating, tasteful direction. While Atik’s play holds the potential to be raunchy and uncomfortable, complete with nudity and simulated foreplay, the production team instead keeps the staging almost entirely bereft of explicit sexual contact. Tolan’s choice to avoid the awkward and graphic aspects of sex so commonly and gratuitously employed in theater today in favor of more subtle approaches is a wise one: he keeps his audience comfortable and engaged, allowing us to focus on the show’s many insights on relationship dynamics.

In addition to Tolan’s sensitive direction, scenic designer Jason Simms’s artistic vision adds to the play’s merits. The production team has arranged the Ensemble Studio Theater’s black box space into a thrust stage, offering their patrons seating on the tacky couches that surround the proceedings. Furthermore, lighting designer Greg MacPherson’s sultry hues and sound designer Dan Spitaliere’s appropriately quirky playlist set the mood just right: Five Times in One Night offers you the unique opportunity to join your date on a loveseat and let the play break the ice for you.

Darcy Fowler and Dylan Dawson in as scene from “Five Times in One Night” (Photo credit: Gerry Goodstein)

Darcy Fowler and Dylan Dawson in as scene from “Five Times in One Night” (Photo credit: Gerry Goodstein)

Leading the proceedings are Ensemble Studio Theater veterans Dylan Dawson and Darcy Fowler as the respective male and female parts, as it were. Separately, they are both skilled actors capable of taking on a slew of difference characters. Dawson shifts seamlessly from a hipster yogi coolly condescending his ex to an 11th century scholar feverishly repressing his urges. Likewise, Fowler offers her varied takes on characters ranging from a sexually frustrated girlfriend looking for some added “danger” to a spurned lover clinging to the remaining vestiges of her relationship. Together, the two share a delightful chemistry that transcends millennia and genres to offer us a fun, comfortable look at intimacy.

Atik’s Five Times in One Night indicates that the playwright largely agrees with Wilde’s aforementioned thesis on the matter; however, she argues that sex is about more than just power. It is about necessity, discovery, comfort, attention, and sometimes even love. Take a date, take a friend, or take yourself to this fun, little show before it closes. Just don’t take your mother.

Five Times in One Night (through April 19, 2015)

Ensembel Studio Theatre and YoungbloodEST

Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 East 52nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or visit http://www.ensemblestudiotheatre.org

Running time: one hour and 20 minutes with no intermission

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