Fertile Ground: The End of Sex? Ah, there’s the rub

Craig Jessen's new comedy imagines the consequences of a sex super-drug. It ain't all roses and chocolates

It just might be the ultimate Selfie: a drug that transfers sexual stimulation from the genitalia to whatever part of the body it’s administered to. Your forearm, say, or a knuckle. Boring meeting? Riding on the bus? No one’s the wiser. Give the pressure point a surreptitious massage, and, voila! – you’re over the top.

Cordell, administering the fateful shot. Theatre Vertigo

Cordell, administering the fateful shot. Theatre Vertigo

Over the top is where The End of Sex, Craig Jessen’s play in its premiere production at Theatre Vertigo, threatens to land, too. But comedy – especially satire – is allowed a little exaggeration, and this smart new play stretches credulity just far enough without letting it snap. Plus, it’s funny, with enough emotional underpinning to give the jokes some sting. I liked it. Jessen’s script backs up its whopper of a premise with wry insight into the law of unintended consequences and an especially sardonic, though not necessarily inaccurate, view of corporate culture and the nature of greed.

The action begins in a small lab inside a giant pharmaceutical company research building, where a brilliant if socially awkward researcher, Sam (Stephanie Cordell) and her assistant, Zoe (Beth Thompson) are watching two sets of rabbits and taking notes. One set is busy humping like … well, rabbits. The other, curiously, isn’t. Instead, the bunnies are cuddling. Turns out, the drug that’s being tested has wildly unanticipated results. And soon enough – Sam’s about to lose her research grant to her old nemesis – the experiments skip past the animals and go straight to the humans, with orgasmic results. Viagra’s kid stuff compared to this. The bucks are going to roll in.

Jessen has an eye for the comic possibilities of human venality, and a sense of just how far to push an audience before comedy curdles into crudeness. If a ballroom-dancing joyride doesn’t push your comedy button, a randy farmer’s cavorting with his barnyard animals might. And the underlying story of Sam’s sinking relationship with her husband, Howard (Jason Glick) neatly underlines the difference between sex and love, without getting all soapboxy about it. Jessen thinks about ramifications, and that keeps The End of Sex from devolving into just a string of jokes. Ethical breeches pop up like furtive little trysts all over the place (including a journalistic one that made me cringe), but after all, people are people, and temptation’s temptation.

Performances are in the Shoe Box Theater, Vertigo’s new home, which it shares with Northwest Classical Theatre, and which seats an up-close-and-personal 40 people. For this show, Ted Jonathan Gold has designed a moving puzzle-box of a set that provides remarkably expansive performing space, and director Brandon Woolley keeps the pace quick and the style pointed through the full two acts. The show, performed mostly by Vertigo company members, enjoys sharp supporting turns from R. David Wylie, Tom Mounsey, Nathan Crosby, Holly Wigmore, Shawna Nordman, Kelsey Tyler, and Pam Mahon.

 The End of Sex is part of the Fertile Ground festival of new works, but it’s also part of Vertigo’s regular season, and will continue through February 15. Ticket and schedule information is here.

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