Frances Hill, the Artistic director of Urban Stages admittedly was nervous. At a recent performance of playwright Oren Safdie’s Unseamly , she expressed concern in her curtain speech about how how subscribers and audiences might react to this edgy roman a clef play about sexual harassment. Her fears weren’t completely unwarranted; Unseamly isn’t exactly the kind of play you want to bring home to mother. It is however, a furious, filthy, and fascinating look into media manipulation, the process of spin, and the consequence of salacious action.
Ripped straight from the headlines, Unseamly is an unraveling of sorts about the CEO and founder of a major apparel store that is um..American. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, it is the recently bankrupt American Apparel. You see what I did there? (Ahem) Anyway…
The 90 minute drama opens with Malina (Gizel Jimenez), an aspiring model who is seeking legal justice from her lawyer, Adam (Tommy Schrider). Malina’s hopes of legitimate modeling are soon dashed when her loathsome boss Ira Slatsky (Jonathan Silver) begins demanding more from her sexually. Early on, she is presented with a sex toy from him and one has to inquire why it didn’t end there. Still, she continues playing for far too long. Once accusations fly, an arrogant Slatsky feels as though he can get can escape them unscathed. Eventually, his rocky roller coaster of seduction comes to a screeching halt. Adam debates whether or not to pursue the case since it turns into a matter of Malina’s word against Slatsky’s word.
Safdie’s approach to this emotion-filled topic is smart, engaging, and thoughtful. It would be easy to vilify Slatsky, and while his tactics are by no means upstanding, Safdie does not pin the blame solely on him. A slight degree of culpability also rests with Malina, who is well aware of what straight men like and is happy to deliver the goods. Still, one must be mindful of a seventeen year old brain and the naivete, regardless of gender, that is can possess. Safdie has also painted his lawyer with a grey brush, suggesting that he is also not a figure of virtue.
Sarah Carlsen’s direction is sound and all three of her actors are very fine. What could easily slip into a syrupy lesson on sexual harassment is instead a well made, tightly knit tapestry. Kudos to Frances Hill and Urban Stages, who now know that risks like this can often create a riveting night of theater.
Unseamly runs now through November 8th at Urban Stages, 259 West 30th street between 7th and 8th. For tickets and information http://urbanstages.org/