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A CurtainUp Review
By Charles Wright

Is that what this is Ronnie, are you free? What is that, what is free? Tell me, because I'd like to know.— Emily to her brother who has left his old life as a married suburbanite to find himself in Manhattan.
Catherine Curtin and Mark McCullough Thomas (Photo: Richard Termine)
Consent by David Rhodes is an up-to-the-minute variation on the romantic collision of virgin and libertine. In days of yore the leading players in this kind of comedy would have been a fetching damsel and a super-urbane fellow several years her senio,r. Among old-fashioned Broadway plays such as The Moon Is Blue, Under the Yum-Yum Tree, and The Tender Trap the conflict stemmed from the libertine's attempts to assail the ingenue's virtue, while she tried to hornswoggle him into matrimony.

Rhodes's stark title is the first clue that his characters aren't in yum-yum tree territory. The playwright upends the conventions of the 20th century virgin-libertine romance by putting two men, two decades apart in age, at the center of his dark comedy.

The younger of the men, Kurt (Michael Goldstein), is the wilder and more worldly. He's a Yale student pursuing a carpe diem existence, insouciant about the future. The older man, Ron (Michael McCullough Thomas), is the neophyte (not a virgin but inexperienced in casual encounters). He's a former pro-football player in his forties, long married and the father of two children who's now getting divorced, .

The men spot each other on a subway platform at West 14th Street. They trade signals, and repair to the swank Soho loft which Ron, an architect, has devised for his planned single existence. What happens next is subject to interpretation: Ron cries rape; Kurt says all was good fun or, in a word, consensual. "We were just acting out, that's all," according to Kurt, "Role play."

The play's dialogue is brittle, funny, and raw. Under the author's direction, the action moves swiftly for an hour, losing steam in the final 30 minutes. The bursts of violence, effectively choreographed by UnkleDave's Fight House (the team responsible for fight choreography in the recent Broadway production of Disgraced and the current An American in Paris) are dramatically compelling and convincing. However, Consent won't be for everyone. At the performance under review, two playgoers beat a hasty retreat from the premises at the conclusion of the first sadomasochistic encounter.

The strongest, most forceful scenes are those in which the men are alone together; and, at times, the play appears to be a two-hander in one act expanded to fill out a full evening. Yet the evening's funniest moments and, arguably, those with the greatest verisimilitude involve Catherine Curtin as Ron's sister Emily, who's dismayed by her brother's dilemma but inspired by his ability to remake himself in midlife. The scenes with Ron's wife, Susie (Angela Pierce), a somewhat underwritten character, are less satisfying.

Arriving in time for New York City's annual Gay Pride celebration, Consent is likely to benefit from the City's influx of summer tourists. But it would be unfair to categorize the play strictly as special-interest fare. Opening in the wake of the high-profile publication of John Krakauer's Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, this is a provocative contribution to the public discussion about boundaries of force and compliance which has been in high gear since last November, when Rolling Stone issued Sabrina Rubin Erdely's exposé about an alleged rape in a fraternity house at the University of Virginia.

Written and directed by David Rhodes
Cast: Catherine Curtain (Emily), Michael Goldstein (Kurt), Angela Pierce (Susan), and Mark McCullough Thomas (Ron)
Scenic Design: Scott Tedmon-Jones
Costume Design: Izzy Fields
Sound Design: Chad Raines
Lighting Design: John Eckert
Video Design: Chelsie McPhilimy
Poperties: Addison Heeren
Fight Director: UnkleDave's Fight House
Stage Manager: Joel Elins
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission
The Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 West 46th Street
Opening 6/11/15; closing 7/28/15
Reviewed by Charles Wright at  June 10th press performance
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