The Opposite of Love – Compelling

Will (Danny Gardner) is a seasoned prostitute – at a kind of mid level, i.e. he shares a Bronx apartment with several other men. Nonplussed to discover new client Eloise (Ashley Griffin), is attractive, educated, and well heeled, he suggests that the city is full of bars and clubs in which she might easily find a sexual partner. Why hire someone? First moves on his part are thoughtful, willing. The man is sexy. Eloise wears a suggestive red dress and heels, yet starts every time he comes near her, often scurrying across the room.

Will has been paid and could walk away, but doesn’t, instead suggesting a once a week liaison during which she might gradually become more comfortable. Eloise ambivalently agrees. His client has a past scarred by childhood abuse followed by adult hurt. She thinks she knows what she wants and needs to create a healthy life. Considerate, but direct, Will asks all the right questions. (Astute writing here.) He also comes up with clever ways to put the pair in nonthreatening physical proximity.

Apart from singular personal experience, many of Eloise’s fears are shared by young women today. Most men do think of sex differently than potential female partners and conduct themselves accordingly. Distaff fear is exacerbated by trauma, not necessarily created by it. Will is practical and rational in efforts to take threat out of the equation. “It’s not always such a big thing at the end of the day. Sometimes, it’s boring…” He candidly answers personal questions unimaginable from other clients. We learn something about them both. Details add to verisimilitude.

The play superbly evolves, each chapter/visit economic with change as if slowly peeling an onion. Playwright Ashley Griffin has the wisdom and insight to show nothing black and white. Heated zigzags are jarring, concerns and arguments believable. Representation of the two damaged protagonists is distinct; social mores familiar. A short bridge before the unexpected last scene might be constructive. While outcome is surprising and satisfying, its abrupt nature pushes the envelope a bit far. If this were a miniseries, there would be a part two.

Griffin has written herself a challenging role. Eloise and her body – respectively – attempt to break down a legacy wall. We see mistrust, panic, repulsion, sense memory, surprise, and plausibly, hope. Acting is additionally, physically vibrant.

Danny Gardner, whom I knew only to be a wonderful dancer/musical comedy performer, pulls a rabbit out of the hat with a sensitive, dramatically viable portrait. Blindsided, Will’s face reflects bewilderment, consternation, compassion and, finally shock.  Gardner listens, a paramount skill. Sexual approach is specific to character and convincing.

Director Rachel Klein offers subtle manifestation of internal conflicts. A look, a gesture, a move, even silence color what’s being said. Emotional armor is well depicted and credibly broken down. Simultaneous nervous laughter and crying is beautifully, empathetically depicted. As accompanied, at one point, by a slide off the chair to the floor, it’s a slam dunk. Giggles of surprise and delight are palpable. What turns out to be foreplay is tender.

There’s no credit for costumes, but Eloise’s progressive choices are never less than telling. Brendan McCann’s scenic design is innocuous white – one assumes purposefully.

Intimacy Director Crista Marie Jackson deftly manages multiple forms of closeness

The Script tellingly dictates: Will – Male, Late 20’s – Early 40’s. A tragic boy with beautiful thoughts.
Eloise – Female, Late 20’s – Early 30’s. A beautiful girl with tragic thoughts.

Photos by Jeremy Varner

The Opposite of Love by Ashley Griffin
Directed by Rachel Klein
Royal Family Performing Arts Space 
145 West 46th Street  3rd floor
Through June 15, 2024

About Alix Cohen (1775 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.