Writers Theatre Presents THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX Review – Complicated Relationships Rendered On Stage

Burgess and Turner. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Mortensen, Burgess, Kupferer, and Turner. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Writers Theatre Presents A Timely Relationship Play

Perhaps now more than ever before, people of all ages are discussing issues of race, gender, and sexuality. These personal and timely topics define our relationships, be they our relationships with our friends, with our families, or with ourselves. Writers Theatre's production of The Mystery of Love and Sex gives audiences an intimate look at the benefits and drawbacks of a long-term friendship when it comes to how we act upon these topics.

In Bathsheba Doran’s play,  audiences are thrust into the world of Charlotte (Hayley Burgess) and Johnny (Travis Turner), long-time childhood friends who are navigating whether their love for each other is love with a capital “L.” Each character’s ensuing journey into the ramifications and repercussions of these ideas is explored over the play’s two acts, with the second act taking place years after the events of the first. We also follow Charlotte’s parents, Howard (Keith Kupferer) and Lucinda (Lia Mortensen) as they navigate raising a daughter on the brink of adulthood, still living with the memory of her 9-year-old suicide attempt.

Complicated Characters Populate The Mystery of Love and Sex

Doran has no issue crafting complicated characters who speak their minds, no matter how unpopular or inappropriate their thoughts may be. Each character’s identity is multi-layered and multi-faceted, with the actors digging into these hypocrisies and intricacies with zealousness.

As Charlotte in Act I, Burgess accurately captures the terrifying-but-exhilarating freedom of college.

Turner and Kupferer. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Armed with the knowledge that her life is now (mostly) in her hands, she energetically ping pongs from future to possible future, speaking with an enthusiasm tinged with overwhelming possibilities. Turner’s earnest and measured portrayal of best friend Jonny is instantly endearing. His quiet expressiveness clearly signals his deep respect for Charlotte and her family, despite her father, less-than-appropriate comments about black men over dinner.

While Howard seems on the face to be a bit of a jerk, Doran’s script gives Kupferer several nuanced scenes to go deeper into his character’s inner life. As Charlotte’s mother, Lia Mortensen gets similar mileage, going from one of the least-defined characters in the first act to one of the most well-understood by the end of the play. These expertly crafted performances don’t always make you root for each character; however, you do find yourself rooting for their relationships to stay in tact, recognizing that such history cannot be easily replaced.

Burgess and Turner. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Design and Direction Focuses on Characters’ Journeys

Director Marti Lyons has staged this drama with audience on both sides of the action. A strip of lightly colored hardwood flooring forms the stage in the middle, extending to create the figure of a large tree that towers over the actors. At one point, a tire swing lowers to create Charlotte’s childhood backyard amidst Andrew Boyce’s lightly colored set. At other times, stagehands maneuver tables, couches, and beds atop the flooring to suggest a living room or dormitory. Every scene is suggested minimally, allowing the audience to focus on the relationships unfolding and imploding several feet away from them.

Lyons’ direction also puts the relationships at the center of the performance, allowing much of Doran’s play to speak for itself. In stronger scenes, such as an opening dinner engagement or a confrontation between Howard and Jonny, the characters’ actions are enough to hold the audience’s attention. At other times, often in Act I as we are still getting to know these characters, the episodic nature of Doran’s play is less engaging. Despite some of the script’s unevenness, this is a well-produced play which ponders a multitude of interesting questions. It takes until the start of Act II to truly settle in to the play’s rhythm, but for those interested in a play which covers many topics, the performances are worth the trip to Glencoe.



This performance contains: full frontal nudity, sexual situations, adult language, smoking and depiction of drug use.

Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.



And note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.


Mortensen and Kupferer. Photo by Michael Brosilow.


Through Sunday, July 2, 2017.

Tuesdays – Fridays: 7:30pm (with 3:00pm Wednesday matinees on April 26; May 10, 17, and 31; and June 21)

Saturdays: 3:00pm (except April 8) and 7:30pm

Sundays: 2:00pm and 6:00pm (except April 9 and 30; May 14 and 21; and June 4 and 25)

There will be no performance on Tuesday, July 4


The Gillian Theatre (325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, IL)


Prices for all performances range from $35 - $80

Box Office: The Box Office is located at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe;

847-242- 6000; www.writerstheatre.org

About the Author:

Brent Ervin-Eickhoff is a Chicago-based director, writer, and educator. In addition to PictureThisPost, he has written for HowlRound and Third Coast Review. Brent has worked with A Red Orchid Theatre, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co., The Arc Theatre, The Public House Theatre, Something Marvelous, Whiskey Radio Hour, and The Burrowers. He is also a co-founder of Blue Goose Theatre Ensemble.
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