New Times Los Angeles
Written by Patrick Corcoran. February 6, 1997
A prostitute and a shrink cure each other in the compelling Adam & Eva Marie
Who's in control during a blowjob? When a young woman asked me that in college, I was still young and naive enough to believe sex was about, oh, I don't know...pleasure. The question appalled me. Now that I'm old and bitter, the question still appalls me, but not because it isn't germane; it is. The problem is, the question begs others. In contol when? At that moment? Who's paying attention then, anyway?
In Adam & Eva Marie-playing a short return engagement at Actors Art Theatre-sex, power, ethics, and psychotherapy come together in a heady and powerful mixture. In Michael Solomon's play, Eva Marie is a prostitute who offers to trade sex for psychoanalysis with Adam. Aside from the arrangement being unethical and possibly illegal on both their parts, to say nothing of the wisdom of being involved sexually with someone who clearly has a sex-based problem, Adam agrees to the arrangement with some restrictions. They will not meet in his office, and they will consider each other friends instead of doctor and patient or prostitute and john.
The ethical question is the hook on which the play is hung, but it's also the thing most easily set aside. When ethics collides with need, ethics goes out the window. Eva Marie is clearly suffering, and part of Adam's treatment philosophy has to do with honoring and entering into the patient's belief system. For Eva Marie, having the trust of the doctor-patient relationship breached by seduction goes to the heart of her problem. Much better for her to get the sex on a business footing where, she believes, it is much more honest and she is in charge.
As Eva Marie, Jolene Adams is a raw nerve ending. Wearing a sleek black wig, various lingerie, and her anger like armor, her character is on the verge of a major crackup. Beaten and sexually abused by her stepfather, she began to use sex as a preemptive strike against him to protect herself and her doormat of a mother against his beatings. Adams navigates her swings from defensiveness to professional sexiness to fear and pain without a false note.
Jimmie F. Skaggs's psychotherapist is a man so deep in his head that he barely exists. Without his brilliance in the therapist's chair, he wouldn't have a personality to speak of. In appearance, he's a disturbing cross between warren Zevon and my college acting teacher. His voice has an even, cultivated neutrality. Adam seems to get off on only two things: his brain at work and Eva Marie's pain.
Solomon's dialogue is by turns funny, insightful, brutal, and raw. The therapy scenes are inherently effective and moving and work all the better thanks to the naked intensity of his actors. Unfortunately, the play's structure falls into the trap of all plays trying to depict pyschological breakthroughs. The compression required for drama makes the process seem too quick, too simple, lending the therapist the godlike aura that Solomon clearly detests. A deeper flaw comes in a conflict between the two characters that is dramatically contrived and philosophically bogus. A speech put into Adam's mouth about the ensnaring nature of women and how they scheme to rob a man of his freedom is nonsense and nonsensical coming from this character. It is a tribute to the two actors that they somehow get through the scene to a wrenching resolution.
Solomon, director Virginia Morris, and two very fine actors have created a compelling, redemptive vision of healing powerlessness. Who's in control? Nobody. Nobody I know.