A View from the Cliff: “New Group/New Works” tours all boroughs

An ambitious theatrical production is visiting all five boroughs. It exposes the harsh realities of physical abuse and its accompanying emotional confusion. The venues are citywide campuses including Brooklyn College. The program is developed and presented under the auspices of the New Group/New Works project.

Entitled “The Sensuality Party,” this drama is anything but a party. In it, six students meet in a dorm room and experiment with their mixed gender attractions and self-images. During the “party,” a violent act triggers different and disquieting efforts as the students cope with what they’ve seen and done.

Director Danya Taymor’s cast emerges from the audience to surprise and inform us. Their casual verbal profanities and sexual revelations are not completely unexpected from college age experimenters. Soon though, we realize there is a much deeper and more sinister problem.

The first character, named “Speaker,” is played by Jake Horowitz. He succeeds in holding our attention for a very lengthy narrative filled with hundreds of expletives and sexual descriptions. Other characters who have been sitting in the large circle of desks, chairs and sofas tell their stories as well.

Their unsettling fantasies and troubling interactions are revealed as part of a bigger issue, that is, the long simmering behavior unleashed by the violent attack of September 11. Equally troubling are the bizarre effects of the Internet on otherwise “good” people.

The characters are well played by Catherine Combs, Jeff Cuttler, Katherine Folk-Sullivan, Layla Khoshnoudi and Rowan Vickers. They are masters of paradoxical subtlety and abrupt surprise. We are first drawn in by the matter-of-fact manner in which they describe their fears and fetishes. Then we’re verbally assaulted by their unmistakably violent message. The impact has grown from a whimper to a roar. Well done!

Following the performance, an intense panel discussion is held. Members include playwright Justin Kuritzkes and a representative from R.A.I.N.N. (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). The insightful interchange asks whether sexual violence has become normalized in the shadows of the Internet and the fall of the twin towers. Have we become bad people or do we just think bad thoughts? Are we irreversibly numb to serious violence? The future is up to us.

For information on this and future projects, call 718-951-5000, surf to thenewgroup.org or depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/theater. As always, save me a seat on the aisle.

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