As the headlines of the past few years make clear, powerful white heterosexual males don't exactly behave rationally when it comes to sex. In 2008, Eliot Spitzer resigned as governor of New York after it was revealed he had a fairly serious hooker habit. In 2010, John Edwards admitted he'd fathered a child with a former campaign employee. More recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger belatedly confessed that he, too, had a child with a woman who worked for him; his wife, Maria Shriver, was actually pregnant at the same time as their housekeeper. And a week or so ago, the International Monetary Fund's managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was arrested for sexually assaulting a hotel maid. As an alleged former client of the same madam who kept Spitzer in trim, Strauss-Kahn's best defense may turn out to be that he mistook the maid for one of his prostitutes.
Philip Kan Gotanda's Love in American Times now through June 5, 2011, at San Jose Rep, focuses on another variation of the bedding practices of rich white guys, the Rupert Murdoch syndrome, in which a very wealthy, elderly man marries a younger, Asian, would-be tiger mom. In Love, Gotanda's hero is a 70-year-old Gordon Gekko-type named Jack Heller, who J. Michael Flynn plays like Dabney Coleman with a Ted Turner implant. Flynn's Heller is crass, obnoxious, foul-mouthed and entirely self absorbed. We absolutely should not care about him and the problems he faces due to his privilege, but Gotanda's well-written dialogue, as well as Flynn's convincing performance, put us squarely in the character's camp.
Heller's counterpart is Scarlett Mori-Yang (Linda Park), the ambitious, 33-year-old director of a non-profit organization that brings arts education to inner-city kids. Mori-Yang, with her hovering assistant and Christian Louboutin heels, is as much of a clichéd stereotype as Heller, but these two opposites have been brought together by an imperious matchmaker named Mrs. Green (Rosina Reynolds), whose spooky soliloquies at various moments in the play are just one of several elements in this world premiere that don't quite work.
Rosina Reynolds as Abby
The play's first act, though, is a good deal of fun. As the lights comes up, Heller and Mori-Yang are meeting for the first time in a bar whose walls are decorated with numerous trophies and totems, including three animal heads, each of which sports an impressive rack. This visual pun on the play's subject, a trophy wife, is one of several nice touches throughout by scenic designer Robin Sanford Roberts.
As it turns out, Mori-Yang is just as focused on big-time success as Heller, giving them more in common than we might have thought. She not only wants his money, she wants to know what makes him tick so that she can work his magic in her altruistic marketplace. He wants a smart sexy woman at his side, as well as the sex that accompanies a "full marriage," as Mori-Yang describes it later in the play. Both seem to think that this unemotional merger of egos and ambition is perfectly fair, and when Heller asks Mori-Yang if she thinks she can handle the fact that he's an asshole, she replies dryly, "Extraordinary people can be intolerable human beings. I know; I'm a fundraiser." The first act is filled with lots of clever banter like this, which makes the hour-long first scene sail by.
Jack (J. Michael Flynn), Edward (Craig Marker), Abby (Rosina Reynolds), Sophie (Arwen Anderson), and Lyonee (Zarah Mahler)
The second act is less sure-footed, although I did like the way in which Gotanda introduced us to Heller's son, Edward (Craig Marker), his son's wife, Lyonee (Zarah Mahler), his daughter, Sophie (Arwen Anderson), and his ex-wife, Abby (Rosina Reynolds), after whom the family yacht, where the second act takes place, is named. Through a series of entrances and exits by the various players, Gotanda gives each member of this dysfunctional family a chance to get to know Mori-Yang, and vice versa. Anderson as Heller's spacey former-alcoholic-junkie daughter is particularly good, as is Mahler, especially in her tart-tongued scene with her take-no-prisoners mother-in-law. If the ending is a bit abrupt, it does have the potential to be more moving than a comedy about the mating habits of rich people has any right to be.
Love in American Times runs through June 5, 2011 at San Jose Rep. For tickets and information visit sjrep.com.
All photos: Kevin Berne.