Sexual heat and combativeness fuel playwright Rehana Lew Mirza’s involving two-character romantic drama Hatef**k. The title is quite accurate as its warring heterosexual protagonists routinely engage in passionate sex after bruising blowups. Physical attraction versus temperamental differences get a contemporary spin here as this Michigan couple are South Asian-American Muslims.
Handsome and self-satisfied Imran Siddiqui is the Pulitzer-Prize winning best-selling author of six novels with titles such as The Savage and The Dishonored that often feature Muslim terrorists. He’s hosted a literati party at his luxury apartment where crystal wine glasses are used. One of the last guests there is a friend of one of the attendees whom Imran has never met. She is Layla Mahdi, a beautiful professor of literature at Wayne State University and an observant but modern Muslim. She expresses disdain for the irreligious quality in his works and there are fierce cultural debates, sparks, and she spends the night. Layla happens to have a book project so perhaps she has ulterior motives. Will their relationship work out?
There’s stinging dialogue, solid construction and high powers of observation that accurately render the fractious literary milieu with Imran’s offstage agent a major figure. These all enable Ms. Mirza to spin out her enticing scenario over eight scenes in 90 often charged minutes, spanning several months. The characters are impeccably detailed and behave so realistically, causing the possible dynamic for the viewer of siding with one over the other.
Kavi Ladnier and Sendhil Ramamurthy magnetically portray the erudite couple. The smoothly charming, beaming and athletic Mr. Ramamurthy’s Imran is highly appealing with his coolly articulate bad boy characterization. The alluring Ms. Ladnier as Layla is winningly feisty, melancholic and vituperative. Most crucially, this duo has the sensual chemistry to make the play’s entire premise believable as they engage in lusty battle royales including simulated intercourse and the playful usage of handcuffs.
Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt’s propulsive staging injects eroticism, clarity and focus, all at a brisk pace, unifying the play’s suspenseful elements with its eloquent rhetorical portions.
Besides the remarked upon set of crystal wine glasses, scenic designer Anshuman Bhatia has crafted a bright spacious upscale environment with hanging lighting and modern décor including an eye-catching orange couch.
Lighting designer Barbara Samuels and sound designer Joanna Lynne Staub thrillingly go into overdrive for the scene transitions that usually have the couple engaging in sex. There’s periodically a barrage of electronic music and pulsing lighting.
From Imran’s jeans and fitted shirts and sweaters to Layla’s slinky print dresses, Sarita Fellows’ casual costume design emphasizes the character’ sense of style and the actors’ physical traits.
With all of its accomplished qualities, Hatef**k is an electrifying exploration of the complexities of coupledom.
Hatef**k (through March 31, 2019)
Co-production of WP Theater and Colt Coeur
WP Theater, 2162 Broadway, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866- 811-4111 or visit http://www.coltcoeur.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission