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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Escort

Gentlemen who can afford to go to the theatre also have the means to visit someone like me. — Charlotte, a high-end call girl.

Polly Draper in The Escort
(Photo: Michael Lamont)
The Escort isn't really about an escort. It's about the turmoil she brings into the lives of Howard (James Eckhouse) and Rhona (Polly Draper), two doctors who are divorced from each other but share parenting a son Lewis (Gabriel Sunday) and separate suites in the same office building. They meet very conventionally when the escort, Charlotte (Maggie Siff), visits Dr. Rhona professionally, having been recommended to her by someone she met in a beauty salon — or so she says.

Thirteen-year-old Lewis's avid pursuit of sex on the internet and his attempts to hide it from his worried parents are the pivot around which this sly and zany comedy swings. More than just surface yuks, playwright Jane Anderson brings up buried or ignored feelings from the adults, from Rhona more than Howard, as well as avid curiosity. The play, a commissioned premiere from The Geffen Theatre, delves into sex-for-money from the viewpoint of Charlotte and her male counterpart, Matthew, also played by Gabriel Sunday. When Rhona and Howard pour over Charlotte's resume on the internet, one no-no they encounter is kissing on the lips, the seal of intimacy in our culture. That should have given them their first clue.

But it's really the saga of Rhona, whose concern for Lewis leads her to confide in Charlotte and eventually to admit her loneliness and agree to try sex-for-money with Matthew.

She shouldn't have been surprised that he's a beautiful young man, accent on the young, and in one of the play's strongest scenes, she goads him to near-violence. And she shouldn't be so gullible about Charlotte's self-serving whitewash; it's almost the end of the play before she stops believing everything Charlotte says.

Lisa Peterson directs with a bright brisk pace. She takes the sex-for-money theme, analyzes it and, after thoroughly exploring the byways, plunks down with the righteous, .

Polly Draper stands out in a carefully chosen cast, so natural you forget she's acting, with Gabriel Sunday running a close second in the dual roles of the adolescent Lewis and the bland smug young Matthew. The role of Howard seems to be written as a cold conventional man, not giving Eckhouse much wriggle room. Fortunately he had two other small cameo roles which witness his range. The role of Charlotte, the Escort, with her carefully composed English, is mask-like to the end. It doesn't work somehow.

Richard Hoover designed the stunning set, a circle of doors behind which emerge the props for each scene. Costumes, courtesy of Laura Bauer, are numerous, beginning with the simulated nude costumes which are designed to highlight the erogenous zones.

The Escort is carefully researched with Anderson's signature flair for comedy. The frightened withdrawal at the end and the ironic status quo that are Charlotte's final words are a comment on our society. Or not.

The Escort
Playwright: Jane Anderson
Director: Lisa Peterson
Cast: Charlotte (Maggie Siff), Matthew/Lewis (Gabriel Sunday), Rhona (Polly Draper), Howard & Others (James Eckhouse).
Set Design: Richard Hoover
Costume Design: Laura Bauer
Lighting Design: Rand Ryan
Composer & Sound Design: Paul James Prendergast
Where: The Geffen Playhouse, 10886 LeConte, Los Angeles. Reservations: (310) 208-5454.
When: April 6-May 8, 2011.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on April 6.
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