David Landsberg’s Surviving Sex is a frequently funny (albeit almost totally implausible) look at men’s and women’s relationships seen through the eyes of the nebbish-next-door, aka Stan.

Stan is your everyday, normal, moderately attractive 30something American—with one exception. He has been seeing things for the past month. Well, not things exactly, more like people. An audience. Regardless of whether he’s alone, or with best friend Larry, or girlfriend Denise, Stan will suddenly start talking to his “people,” about whatever pops into his head.

Lately, it’s been about his relationship with Denise and their frequent quarrels. Stan’s best bud Larry has his own advice to offer: Don’t try to use logic and common sense with a woman because she always has sex to use as a weapon. And as for why bars offer free drinks to women and not to men, it’s simply because regardless of the cost of drinks, men will go wherever drinking women are.

When Stan wonders aloud why he and Denise always seem to be fighting these days, Larry tells him it’s because Stan doesn’t demand to be heard. Even Stan’s pitiful attempts to apologize after an argument end up leading to yet another argument. This time it’s about Stan’s “‘You See’ look” (it gets on Denise’s nerves) and his not respecting her commitment to her career as an actress. (In reality, Denise’s “career” consists of taking an acting class, that is when she’s not busy with her yoga, her numerology, her astrology, etc.)

The fact that Stan is hardly in Denise’s league, lookswise, and her actor friend Sid is, becomes clear when the perfectly sculpted young hunk shows up to rehearse with her. If Stan becomes uncomfortable watching the passionate love scene the two would-be thespians perform in front of him (Sid’s tight white t-shirt having been removed to reveal his Greek statue body), he has only himself to blame. After all, Denise had told him she wanted him to go out for a while so that she and Sid could rehearse in private.

A fed-up-to-here Denise’s declaration that “this relationship is over” is only the beginning of Stan’s adventures Surviving Sex. There’s also the arrival of sultry blind date Lenore. Though Stan has been assured by Larry that he’s going to get his “weasel washed tonight,” it still comes as quite a shock when almost the first words out of Lenore’s mouth are, “You wanna fuck?”

Surviving Sex also means surviving sex toys, like the ones Lenore orders delivered from The Pleasure Palace, so that before you know it, Stan is blindfolded and handcuffed to his dining room table and being whipped by Lenore and offered a joint almost at the same time. (Now if only they can get The Pleasure Palace to send over the missing key.)

And what’s a guy to do when his best friend suddenly goes gay on him, reminding Stan that people always say to “find someone you’re best friends with and the sex will come.” After all, asks a smitten Larry, “What about Brokeback Mountain ?”

Landsberg’s script reflects his sitcom background, and he is adept at writing one-liners, such as when the earnest but untalented Denise tells Stan, “It’s people like you who have killed theater in this city,” or Stan’s response, “If you were acting in Ford’s Theatre, John Wilkes Booth would have shot you instead of Abraham Lincoln.”

The playwright has also written a lead role which is just right for Jeff Marlow, an actor who can play Everyman better than just about anyone else, whether putting his foot in his mouth by telling Lenore that her name reminds him of his dead Aunt Elizabeth (not the best come-on) or going on a lengthy (and funny) rant about how women are allowed to do anything to themselves in the name of beauty but God forbid a bald man should consider wearing a toupee.

Supporting performances are all around fine (more about those later) but there’s hardly a hint of believability in either characters or situations. Also, though Stan’s reaction to Larry’s declaration of gay love for him provokes shock rather than disgust (a sign of progress I suppose), as a gay man, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable seeing sexual orientation (or confusion thereof, however farfetched) once again played for laughs.

Still, none of this rests on the shoulders of director Susan Morgenstern, who keeps things moving fast and furious and funny, or her talented cast. Peter Story (Larry) is such an ingratiating presence that you almost believe him when he tells Stan he’s got the hots for him. Almost. Amy Handelman (Denise) and Steve Coombs (Sid) prove to be hilarious scene-stealers, whether having simulated sex on the table (or nearly on Stan’s back) or attempting English accents or engaging in “actor speak.” Dana Green combines beauty and talent as the seductive but mixed-up Lenore, and Mandy June Turpin completes the cast amusingly as Jennifer, suddenly gay Larry’s flabbergasted wife.

Design elements are at the Falcon’s accustomed standards of excellence, beginning with scenic designer Keith Mitchell’s gorgeous blond wood/black leather apartment sure to provoke audience “oohs” and “aahs..” Mike Jespersen’s lighting design is likewise excellent as is Robert Arturo Ramirez’s sound design, and Joanie Coyote’s costumes have been carefully designed to match each character’s personality (and some of them with easy-exit/entrance equally in mind).

Though I prefer my comedies to spring from reality-based situations, Surviving Sex is nonetheless an entertaining hour and a half of laughs with some sparkling performances.

Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive , Burbank .

–Steven Stanley
February 11, 2009
Photos: Cheryl Games

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