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Theater Review: "The Mystery of Love and Sex"

John Wells III as “Jonny” and Rachael VanWormer as “Charlotte."
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Lucinda (Marci Anne Wuebben) smokes reefer, Howard (Mike Sears) is a casual racist, sexist and homophobe. A Jewish New Yorker and writer of detective novels, he is smug and self-satisfied, but with a definite soft spot for daughter Charlotte. Mom is a Southern belle and lapsed (nay, converted) Catholic.

Charlotte (Rachael VanWormer) isn’t sure whether she loves Jonny (John W. Wells III), the “boy next door” with whom she’s been buddies since they were nine, or maybe a female college student she’s developed strange feelings for. Jonny’s black, a Baptist (and virgin) who’s got the hots for another girl, but is beginning to question his own sexuality. 

A typical American family (plus one)? Maybe not, but this quartet certainly illustrates some of the problems humans face in the course of life.

When Howard and Lucinda arrive at her college dorm room for dinner with Charlotte and Jonny, they’re horrified that they’ll have to sit on pillows on the floor (and we in the audience are greatly amused at Howard’s difficulties getting down there).

They’re even more aghast at dinner: salad, dry bread (without butter) and cheap wine. 

“Bohemian” says mom, stoically. But she’s more interested in the visible affection these two kids show each other. 

“Are you and Jonny together?” she asks. Charlotte says only that they “are not dating.”

You can sense the rom-com possibilities here in playwright Bathsheba Doran’s “The Mystery Of Love And Sex,” playing through Dec. 24 at Diversionary Theatre.

Doran wrote for TV’s “Boardwalk Empire” and “Masters of Sex,” and that background is evident in the sitcom-like situations.

But it must be said that Doran has a good feel for the funny, like Jonny’s inept attempt at dancing and Charlotte’s amusing off-the-cuff solution to their mutual virginity problem: she strips, stretches out on that low table and orders Jonny to do the deed.

But sex and whom to have it with is only one thematic element in this overstuffed play.

Howard’s racism, homophobia and sexism are on the list, as well as infidelity and the use of drugs to dull the senses.

Oh, and the mutability of relationships.

There’s so much to consider that the play’s flow suffers, as does cohesion.

Charlotte and Jonny finally split, agreeing that “our roads have divided,” leading to the second act. This takes places five years later and all relationships have changed. Charlotte is about to marry a woman; Jonny has found the man of his dreams.

Even the long-married Howard and pothead Lucinda are separated, and to top things off, Lucinda makes the startling announcement that she is about to go off to Uzbekistan with the Peace Corps.

Oh, and Jonny has written a paper about Howard’s work, criticizing him as racist, sexist and homophobic.

Phew. By this time I was exhausted, but the play did mercifully end soon thereafter.

I’d like to see more of Doran’s work. There is much to like in “Mystery,” but it could do with a bit more focus.

The details

“The Mystery of Love and Sex” plays through December 24, 2016 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights.

Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm 

Tickets: (619) 220-0097 or diversionary.org