Add to these constant societal frustrations a great deal of intramural bitching about sexual positions, plans for their domestic future and the mutual keeping of secrets, and Pillowtalk becomes a pessimistic scenario far from the 1959 Doris Day/Rock Hudson giggly sex comedy of the same name. Set in 2017, two young men bicker and make love, their emotions eventually leading them to dance a strangely surreal, hesitant, but beautiful duet that reveals what their words couldn’t.
Pillowtalk opens with a surreal bit of amateur level ballet steps performed by Buck who is nervously awaiting having to reveal a setback at his job that will certainly make his husband unhappy. Voiceovers reveal the difficulties each character has been put through in their lives, making it clear that this marriage has always been laden with unavoidable preconceptions that have caused mortal blows to the relationship.
Pillowtalk does have its audacious moments including the final pas de deux—choreographed by Katy Pyle to wonderfully moody music by Helen Yee—which is a natural extension of Buck’s pipe dream of becoming a classical ballet dancer. The two young men grapple with each other, perform high lifts and wrestle themselves into complex shapes, dressed in Andrew Jordan’s revealing costumes consisting of strips of colorful cloth.
Marie Yokoyama’s set and lighting designs work hand-in-hand: the former consisting of two simple rectangular frames that light up at particular moments and divide the small stage into three distinct units. Small boxy pieces serve as a stove, a fridge and other pieces of furniture while a messy bed is approximated by a vertical frame across which is stretched ruffled bedding and pillows. Yokoyama’s lighting manages to turn the small playing area into both a dream space and a real space.
Produced by Kyoung’s Pacific Beat, a “peacemaking theater company,” as part of The Exponential Festival, Pillowtalk has a refreshingly contemporary feel, but depends too much on speechifying and editorializing to hammer its themes home, rather than speaking from the heart. Sometimes the two passionate actors’ emotions are hidden under too much verbiage. Perhaps more performances will turn the dialogue into something more natural sounding and heart piercing?
Pillowtalk (through January 27, 2018)
The 2018 Exponential Festival
Kyoung’s Pacific Beat
The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission