An FBI Agent And An Internet Predator Square Off in 'Sexsting'
One thing theatre arguably does better than film or novels is dealing with uncomfortable issues. There's something about the fact that the performers are right in front of you, an undeniable immediacy, that forces an audience to acknowledge whatever difficult or controversial subjects that are being explored. This has worked from works as disparate as Saved to Equus, and it works again in Doris Baizley and Susan Raffanti's Sexsting, which is currently receiving its West Coast premiere in a strong production at the Skylight Theatre Complex.
In an internet chatroom exhorting the charms of older men, middle-aged John (JD Cullum) "meets up" with SandyByTheSea, who says she's a 14-year-old girl. He says he wants to be friends with her and that she can tell him anything, particularly about her sex life. What John doesn't know is that "Sandy" is actually the cover identity of Richard (Gregory Itzin), an FBI agent attempting to catch predatory pedophiles. As Richard tries to get John to do something he can arrest him for, he's surprised to find himself slightly sympathetic to his conflicted target.
Itzin is superb as Richard, radiating weary uncertainty about the nature of his job. His performance is a multilevel balancing act, rising and falling from Richard on the hunt and setting traps for his prey to slowly realizing this particular target may not entirely be the monster he'd envisioned. Cullum brings enormous likeability to the role, which ironically works well for the play, keeping the audience wondering what John may or may not do. Cullum excels in the couple of scenes with John's teenage children, where what he's contemplating doing with Sandy has the bright light of reality suddenly thrown upon it.
Jim Holmes's direction is simple but effective: the two actors each sit at tables facing the audience, but even though they're only several feet apart, it never seems like they're in the same physical space, which creates the illusion of distance the story must have. Baizley and Raffanti's play explores the grey areas of this scenario well, but ultimately gives more weight to exposing the shifty ethics of entrapment than it does condemning the friendly possible pedophile John. Jeff McLaughlin's lighting and Christopher Moscatiello's sound combine efficiently to create a low-key internet milieu.
"Sexsting" plays at The Skylight Theatre Complex through March 31. Tickets are available online.