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The Opposite of Love

Ashley Griffin’s play tackles questions of sex, intimacy, abuse and suicide with great sensitivity and delicacy in this two-hander.

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Ashley Griffin and Danny Gardner in a scene from Griffin’s “The Opposite of Love” at the Royal Family Performing Arts Space (Photo credit: Jeremy Varner)

Ashley Griffin’s The Opposite of Love offers just what its name implies: love as a transaction by two consenting adults or abuse by a predator. This two hander brings together a down-on-his-luck hustler who is hired by a trust fund baby to help her get over her fear of sex due to having been abused starting at the age of three by an uncle. Rachel Klein’s sensitive production starring the author herself and Danny Gardner advances in small increments as Eloise moves from fear to intimacy with the help and guidance of Will who we never are allowed to forget is getting paid for his services.

Although Eloise, a graduate art student living near Columbia University, welcomes Will at their first meeting dressed in a sexy red cocktail dress, she is not at all ready for intimacy. Seeing that she is willing to pay for talking, the young man from his escort service offers to listen and offer advice. He offers to return weekly at the same time in order to help her over her trauma. In effect, he acts as the therapist she never had. They talk about their experiences, their families, their childhoods, their likes and dislikes. She admits that in her loneliness she has tried suicide but had no one to comfort her.

She then reveals her fears of dating, that love today seems to be nothing but a transaction, that all men want is sex and that a woman who won’t put out will find herself alone. She also fears that if she goes home with a man she doesn’t know very well she can get physically hurt. How can she be sure of his intentions? How can she set limits and know that they will be respected? She asks about his experience as a sex worker, has he been taken advantage or had to do things he did not want to.

Danny Gardner and Ashley Griffin in a scene from Griffin’s “The Opposite of Love” at the Royal Family Performing Arts Space (Photo credit: Jeremy Varner)

When Will mocks some of Eloise’s art books, she discovers that not only does he not know artists but he does not own any books. It becomes a two-way street with Eloise teaching Will about art and culture and him teaching her about intimacy. Eventually Will gets around to discussing what arouses Eloise and what she likes to do. She has never had intercourse though she has liked being touched in certain ways in the past. As they become more comfortable with each other with each passing week, they eventually get past Eloise’s fears. The ending is not only a surprise but it makes one reassess everything that has gone before. Is Eloise who she says she is? Has she too like Will been playing a role?

While Griffin and Gardner are extremely sensitive in these difficult roles, they are somewhat hampered by the playwright’s tameness in language and actions. Taking his cues from Eloise, Will almost never uses the names of any body parts nor is he ever more than gentle in his attempts to draw her out. It is almost as if the playwright wants to write a G-rated play on difficult subject matter so that the play sacrifices a good deal of the drama that might inherently be in the situation. However, the actors are always interesting although they seem constrained by the play’s lack of courage.

The design elements mirror the storyline. Eloise’s attractive modernistic apartment in a luxury building designed by Brendan McCann is all white when we first meet her, though for an art student she has surprisingly little in the way of painting or sculpture around. As she becomes more comfortable with Will and the talk of intimacy, color is added to this living room in the guise of pillows and a spread over the sofa. They also go from drinking water to beer by the time Eloise has overcome her trauma. So too the uncredited costumes reveal their changing states: her outfits become more and more casual while he puts her money to use and seems to dress better and better. The subtle lighting by Zach Pizza puts them and us at ease.

Danny Gardner and Ashley Griffin in a scene from Griffin’s “The Opposite of Love” at the Royal Family Performing Arts Space (Photo credit: Jeremy Varner)

Ashley Griffin’s The Opposite of Love is not afraid to tackle questions of sex, intimacy, abuse and suicide. It does so with great sensitivity and delicacy. It is as though the author does not want to frighten off those who have similar problems. However, it is this very timidity that makes the play feel so tame, as though not only are the actors awkward around each other but the author is too coy with her material. However, the actors and the direction always hold our attention even when the subtext is left to the audience.

The Opposite of Love (through June 15, 2024)


The Royal Family Performing Arts Space, 145 W. 45th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visits

Running time: one hour and 25 minutes without an intermission

Note: The theater is in a restored landmarked building and is not wheelchair accessible nor are the restrooms.

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (990 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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