SENSITIVE GUYS (InterAct): Satirizing the dialectic of sex

Emily Lynn, Bi Jean Ngo, and Brett Robinson in female roles in SENSITIVE GUYS. Photo by Kate Raines.
Emily Lynn, Bi Jean Ngo, and Brett Robinson in female roles in SENSITIVE GUYS. Photo by Kate Raines.

InterAct Theatre Company presents the world premiere of SENSITIVE GUYS, a social satire by MJ Kaufman, directed by Evren Odcikin. What’s being satirized, you ask. Good question with several answers.

The play takes place at Watson College, a small liberal arts institution that values its reputation, and thus the last thing it wants to do is prosecute rape accusations. Like much social satire, this is already out of date; as anybody who is a student or professor at a college or university knows, Title IX rules the campus (this law prohibits sexual abuse, discrimination, harassment, etc etc). So, the pendulum has swung, as the lawyer sitting next to me mentioned, and the play’s cynical outrage at the college’s reluctance to defend the alleged victims is old hat.

The most obvious butt of the satire is in the title: sensitive guys, or guys who think they’re sensitive but still keep doing the stuff that makes them insensitive (ranging from rape to telling a woman walking down the street to smile). The Men’s Peer Education Group tries to work with the Women’s Survivor Group, but what happens if one of the Men’s Group has assaulted one of the Women’s Group? But because these characters are genuinely troubled by events, it’s hard to find this all that funny.

Sensitive Guys InterAct review
Brett Ashley Robinson, Bi Jean Ngo, and Lexie Braverman in male roles in SENSITIVE GUYS. Photo by Kate Raines.

Politically correct language (is saying someone is “blind” to a situation offensively ableist?) is another aspect of this contemporary satire, but nothing here is absurd enough to seem original, and the playwright dips into the usual arguments over acronyms, for instance, and winds up showing us how difficult it is to speak without stepping on somebody’s toes.

All this is complicated by the uneven cast of five who play both the men and the women, often without adequate distinctions. Maggie Johnson and Bi Jean Ngo develop the most convincing characters of both genders, while Lexie Braverman as the emotional Jordan seems unconvincingly male, although the implication is that that’s because he’s a Jewish mama’s boy. (Surely this is a good moment for protestation, but none was heard.) Emily Lynn plays both Diana and Danny and Brett Ashley Robinson is good as both Tracy and Tyler. None of these actors manages anything like charm or even likability, perhaps because there’s simply too much anger simmering under the surface of the performances and the script.

The set designed by Melpomene Katakalos is an impressive book-lined room with the usual portrait of the usual old-white-guy-founding-father; but there’s a difference between mocking an old-white-guy-founding-father and mocking a room full of books. I know, I know: books are hopelessly old school and that is a hopelessly ageist thing to say.

[InterAct Theatre Co. at the Proscenium Theatre at The Drake, 302 Hicks Street] January 19-February 11,

5 Replies to “SENSITIVE GUYS (InterAct): Satirizing the dialectic of sex”
  1. I find this review at best ill informed, and at worst, irresponsible. To claim that this social satire is outdated because “Title IX rules the campus,” is strange and disturbing in light of the highly publicized Larry Nassar case, a perpetrator who was able to continue to treat and molest his victims for 16 months following and during a Title IX Investigation, and someone who was protected by college administrators over many years enabling him to abuse hundreds of young women and girls. If Toby Zinman believes that Title IX has somehow solved the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses around this country or dismantled the power structures that incentivize institutional leaders to discount or discredit victims’ claims to protect their, or their institutions’, reputations, then she is deeply and disturbingly wrong or very, very naive. Additionally, I’m not sure why Zinman expects that an actor’s portrayal should be charming or likable. Why is this a measure for the quality of a performance? For more on the Nassar timeline:

  2. I think your Title IX comment would be a fair point had the president of the Michigan State not just been forced to resign for essentially ignoring a Title IX complaint. The Larry Nassar case makes universities willfully ignoring abuse complaints as relevant as ever.

  3. To CM and Michael:
    You’re both right. Title IX failed horribly at Michigan State, and my first paragraph is wrong. But that does not make me think that “Sensitive Guys” is a good play.

  4. Of course, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. Evaluation of art is necessarily subjective. Thank your for your acknowledgement and response.

  5. “the play’s cynical outrage at the college’s reluctance to defend the alleged victims is old hat” I dare you to find one single assault victim on any American campus who would agree with that statement. Sad the message of this play was lost on you

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