Scena Theatre introduces Washington audiences to the controversial 1996 British play Shopping and Fucking by Mark Ravenhill, and the company comes frustratingly close to an effective production that could be worth recommending. Ultimately, however, the efforts of a hardworking cast, under the direction of Robert McNamara, are impaired by some critical missteps in characterization and staging.
Ravenhill makes it clear that the dynamics in the relationship of the twenty-something couple Lulu (Shannon Dunne) and Robbie (David Snider) are defined by the dominance they seek from older men. But there's no convincing sense in Dunne and Snider's performances that they share a bond of true, unmistakable submissiveness. Snider comes across as particularly off-track in his take on the sexually complex Robbie, substituting the necessary empathy for a submissive bisexual man with a manic, overstated style that implies that neither the actor nor the director has a solid grasp on what this character is really about.
Lulu and Robbie's current master-figure, the drug-addled Mark (Christopher Henley), bails on the couple in favor of the fourteen-year-old prostitute Gary (Dan Brick, overstretching the limits of physical believability). Gary is a romantic, materialistic masochist longing for a father figure in a bad way, and Brick and Henley's performances delve intriguingly into psychologically treacherous territory. The dramatic effect is marred when McNamara allows timidity to interfere with the play's torrid climax. Brick's Gary just looks silly as he's brutally screwed and kicked around by Mark and Robbie without his skimpy briefs ever falling below crotch-level.
Shopping and Fucking definitely comes across as an interesting play. It's too bad that Scena's production doesn't have everything going for it that the work demands.
Through Dec. 22 at Warehouse Theatre, 1021 7th St. NW. Tickets are $25. Call 703-684-7990.