The dramatic tension of Kate Mulley’s seriocomic take on modern hangs on an intriguing juxtaposition. The characters that populate the play are bright, comically human, and rendered in three dimensions. But the plot reads like something you’d find on Showtime After Dark. The trope creates a lens through which Mulley examines the struggle for self-definition faced by a rising generation of educated young women. In the age of equality, is it bad to be sexy? Fun to be bad? Which costume is more empowering: the corporate suit or the Victoria’s Secret intimates? The troubled protagonist of The Tutor doesn’t quite find the answers, but attracts plenty of fun and trouble as she embarks on her quest.
Yale graduate Meredith (Olivia Gilliat) leads a double life. By day she helps high school students prepare for the SAT’s. By night, she an internet seductress who poses in racy lingerie, then sells the used undergarments to devoted followers who are willing to pay top dollar. By adopting the pseudonym Cassandra and keeping her face off camera, Meredith manages to keep her side business a secret — even from clients who unwittingly buy intimate apparel from “Cassandra” while hiring Meredith to tutor their kids. Meredith’s fiancé Josh (Valence Thomas), perpetually overseas on business, doesn’t suspect a thing. But the charade can only last so long. As if unconsciously desiring to be caught, Meredith starts a webcam journal. Now viewers will be able to discern her secret identity. She is equally cavalier about her tutoring practice. At her sessions with 17 year old Greg (Ian Way) she wears low cut tops and shares the beer the young man sneaks from his parent’s fridge. It’s a matter of time before Greg’s parents (Valerie Lonigro and Bradford Cover) take notice of the impact Meredith is having on their son. The ensuing confrontation sets off a chain of events that pushes hidden secrets out into the open and tests the tensile strength of the familial and romantic bonds of all the characters.
Despite Meredith’s penchant for playing with fire, there are few explosions in The Tutor. Tensions tend to rise and subside rather than colorfully combust. Still, if the stakes could stand be raised, Mulley’s gentle approach to storytelling has its upside as well. Particularly moving are the bittersweet beats between Meredith and Greg who care for each other but cannot, of course, ever be a couple. Gilliat and Way play these scenes with delicacy, warmth and humor. Likewise, Cover and Lonigro share an enjoyable chemistry as the lenient dad and helicopter mom who can’t agree on how to deal with their son’s maturation. Co-directors Ben Gourgeon and Doug Spagnola draw strong performances from a perfectly cast ensemble and make ample use of The Living Theater’s deep stage. The show’s impressive technical components — video feeds, complex lighting cues and set changes — mesh smoothly without a glitch.
Written by Kate Mulley
Directed by Ben Gourgeon & Doug Spagnola
At The Living Theater
21 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002
New York International Fringe Festival