Shawna Nordman

Dora’s Story: a cautionary coming-of-age

Theatre Vertigo's 'The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents' offers powerful acting, lingering questions

“Dunno,” blurts Dora, the intellectually disabled central character in Lukas Barfüs’s The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents (onstage through Feb. 14 at Theatre Vertigo). Not just once, but throughout the show, Dora says “Dunno” to fend off serious questions about her physical, emotional, and sexual needs. The question she’s really confronting, according to director Bobby Bermea, is one of “personhood,” the Herculean task of creating her identity from scratch.

Shawna Nordman and Nathan Dunkin in "Neuroses." Photo: Gary Norman

Shawna Nordman and Nathan Dunkin in “Neuroses.” Photo: Gary Norman

When we first meet Dora, we learn that she’s spent much of her young life on heavy meds that were intended to manage her disability, but have also blunted her personality. When her mother decides to take her off the drugs, Dora’s mental awareness sharpens only a little … but her sexual urges are thrown into overdrive. We watch her succeed at seduction, but struggle painfully with comprehension and judgment.

My friends who attended Neuroses with me picked up Dora’s “Dunno” for the whole next week. “Dunno,” they’d deadpan about no-win situations at work, or political stumpers in the news. It may be the takeaway thesis of the show, which washes its hands of any preaching or prescription and leaves its audience, like Dora, at a loss. By no means a feel-good show, it’s certainly a feel-something one. Doleful, squicky, thought-provoking, poignant and pathetic, it’s a big bite of forbidden fruit asquirm with worms. It gets you in the gut.

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