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'Five Times in One Night': The Ultimate Modern Romance

Youngblood playwright Chiara Atik thrills audiences with her hilarious series of love stories.

Photos by Gerry Goodstein

Youngblood is Ensemble Studio Theatre’s OBIE Award-winning collective of emerging professional playwrights under the age of 30. While EST gears up for its spring season, featuring the Youngblood Unfiltered Festival throughout March, Youngblood member Chiara Atik kicks off the season with Five Times in One Night, a hilarious two-person series of short plays about sex and talking about sex. Opening on Valentine's Day, this crew definitely knew how to get the party started.

The five stories of Five Times in One Night feature five completely different sets of characters with different relationships, loves and fears, all played by the same pair of actors. And while the plays span chronologically from Adam and Eve all the way to after the nuclear apocalypse, each of them is still extremely contemporary, in theme and in language. This is a play written for millennials--liberal, sex-positive and struggling to talk honestly about sex and desire.

The five stories in this production are not told in chronological order; instead, we begin with the play in which spoken communication is the simplest and most necessary—after the nuclear apocalypse, for the purpose of repopulating the human race—and then move on to more difficult topics. We discuss abortion, then a sexual relationship in the twelfth century, the ennui of a five-year relationship in the modern day and finally, Adam and Eve, where no vocabulary to talk about sex even exists yet. In each scene, we discover how much the characters don't know about each other.

The Heloise and Abelard scene, featuring the now-famous historical love story of a twelfth century French theologian and his brilliant female student, is likely the most hysterical for its extreme and unabashed lust, so graphic that the only way to tell the tale is through the letters they write each other. Adam and Eve is likewise hilarious for its sheer naivety, as well as for the fact that the scene is performed completely in the nude, with only a convenient hedge in the way. The other three scenes feature more serious situations (not that castration and Original Sin aren't), but these actors will still keep you laughing nonstop.

Dylan Dawson and Darcy Fowler transform themselves completely into each character, from biblical scholar to juice cleanse yuppie, with expert skill. Dawson plays the men with a studied insecurity that makes him intensely relatable, while Fowler toes the line between charming and terrified in a fascinating performance. Both performers are themselves Youngblood writing alumni, while director RJ Tolan is the co-artistic director of the program, creating a communal atmosphere that extends to the audience.

The audience, in fact, enters the theater through a service elevator that has been transformed into a mobile lounge, bar and all, while the largely young company of attendees watch from comfortable couches, drinks in hand. All costume changes are performed at the back of the stage, in full view of the audience, again bridging the divide between performer and viewer as we tell stories about sex together. 

If there is anything awkward or not quite fitting about this play, it is the set, which tries to transform into a setting for the drastically different time periods but unfortunately results in Heloise and Abelard standing in front of a modern couch, or a post-apocalyptic world covered for some reason in netting. Still, even if their surroundings cannot fully take on the character of the five different scenes, the actors more than make up for it, performing a hilarious, witty, profound script with delicacy and fun. For anyone who is even slightly interested in sex and talking about it, this is a play you need to see.

Five Times in One Night plays at Ensemble Studio Theatre through March 14.

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