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A (Mostly) All-Black Version of It's Just Sex!

Ed Rampell: This one-acter is a witty, insightful sexploration of sexuality, as well as of love, relationships, marriage, monogamy, wife (and husband!) swapping, sexual dysfunction and more.
Just Sex

Karimah Westbrook, David Haley, Marie-Francoise Theodore, Jeremy Walker, Caz Harleaux, Kimberly Green. (Photos: Sascha Knopf)

It’s Just Sex! is much more than just a lot of fun. This one-acter is a witty, insightful sexploration of sexuality, as well as of love, relationships, marriage, monogamy, wife (and husband!) swapping, sexual dysfunction and more. An excellent ensemble deftly directed by Rick Shaw presents a highly enjoyable, thought-provoking night at the theatre.

The premise is simple: Three upwardly mobile, thirty-ish couples get together for a party and, shall we say, things just spiral out of control. Since Sex! (written by Jeff Gould) was originally presented in 2002 at the Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks at the San Fernando Valley, like sex itself, there have been many iterations of the 90-minute show at a variety of venues, in and out (no pun intended) of L.A., including runs at Athens, Greece and Off-Broadway.

What distinguishes the current production at the aptly named Secret Rose Theatre in the NoHo Arts District is that it’s an all-Black (and brown!) production. Like Historically Black Colleges, the all-Black show has a venerable tradition and falls into roughly two categories. The first are productions that were originally conceived of as having all- or mostly Black casts, and they have generally been musicals, such as the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and Cabin in the Sky, a musical play which was adapted for the screen in 1943, co-directed by Vincente Minnelli and Busby Berkeley, starring Ethel Waters, Rochester and Lena Horne (who also headlined 1943’s likewise all-ebony Stormy Weather, co-starring Bojangles and Cab Calloway).

Just Sex

Karimah Westbrook, Jeremy Walker, Marie-Francoise Theodore, Caz Harleaux, Kimberly Green, David Haley.

The other type of all-Black show is an adaptation of a show generally performed by non-Black thesps with non-Black characters, utilizing nontraditional casting. Otto Preminger’s 1954 Carmen Jones, with a book by Oscar Hammerstein II, adapted Georges Bizet’s 1875 classic, Spain-set opera Carmen and set it in (what was then) modern times in the USA, starring Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll.

It’s Just Sex! falls into this latter category. Having not seen any of the earlier renditions of Sex!, and not being of African ancestry, it’s difficult for this reviewer to determine as to how this all-Black production differs from its predecessors. Is this colorful casting just a gimmick or is it more meaningful? Does it add a new, deeper dimension? A new spin? It’s hard for this virgin reviewer to know - but one thing he knows for sure is that this show surely sizzles.

It is also, strictly speaking, not an all-Black per se production. Kimberly Green plays Joan, who is identified during the course of Sex! as being Puerto Rican (with the obligatory stereotypical reference to them thar hot Latina chicks), and according to her IMDB.com listing Green is half Puerto Rican and half Korean. Talk about Seoul on ice! In any case, like the rest of the cast, she does a fab job in the comedic and dramatic scenes - and also has very attractive legs.

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Which leads to another question: Nudity and sex on the live stage. For ages sexplicit scenes were illegal, but now that nudity and depictions of sexuality are no longer barred onstage and onscreen, how do directors, playwrights, thesps take advantage (or not) of this greater freedom? The naked truth is there is actually little, if any, nudity per se in Sex! However, there is a knee-slapping sequence making the best (and most hilarious) use of screens, silhouettes and shadows since I saw wayang kulit (shadow puppet plays) in Bali. Bravo to all involved, including skillful lighting designer Skylar Johnson!

Karimah Westbrook (Badasssss, The Rum Diary) as Lisa has an exquisite visage: Watching her face for an hour and a half is alone worth the price of admission. She is as beautiful as she is expressive, as Lisa emasculates her belittled husband Greg (Jeremy Walker), who, shall we say, ultimately rises to the occasion and turns the tables in this play that is also about power plays and struggles, in terms of male-female relationships that are changing in our more feminist age, when gender roles are shifting and females may out earn their male mates.

The rest of the attractive cast is spot on: Marie-Francoise Theodore as Joan, the spurned wife who begins the party’s festivities by insisting that the six friends play an ultra-honest game. As Carl, David Haley (the Actors’ Gang’s 1984; TV’s Justified, Jane the Virgin, Sons of Anarchy) was my favorite character (probably because Carl is a scribbler!). Caz Harleaux plays Phil and Denise Milfort is Amanda, the hooker (Amanda Alexander alternates in this steamy part).

Sex! reveals and revels in the notion that when it comes to sensuality, one size doesn’t fit all. And viva la difference! Although bluenoses suffering from Comstockery may be put off by the candid conversation and goings on, most heterosexual adult theatergoers are likely to want to light up a cigarette after this rollicking play - even if they don’t smoke.

And after this all-Black production, one can’t imagine what’s next for this oft-produced play? Putting ethnic jokes and stereotypes aside, how about an all-LGBT production - that will debut in North Carolina! Hey, keep cool, all you rednecks in bible thumper land - it’s just sex…

It’s Just Sex! is being performed through June 5 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. at the Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hollywood, CA 91601. For more info: (818)762-2272; www.itsjustsexplay.com.

And theatergoers should remember that the 23rd annual Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival and the City of West Hollywood are presenting Encore! A Day of Theatre starting at 12:00 p.m. on April 30 at The Actor’s Company, 916 N. Formosa Ave., West Hollywood, CA 90046. Performances include Sandy Brown’s Oh, Yes She Did! For schedule information: See www.lawtf.org or call (818)760-0408.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell