"The Mystery of Love and Sex" is billed as a romantic comedy.
And certainly the show now running through Oct. 30 at Delray Beach's Arts Garage would include rom-com in a theater genre Venn diagram.
But, as the title spells out, it is also a riff on a mystery/detective story with plenty of dun-dun-duuuun reveals. They come about every 15 or 20 minutes as secrets come to light in this four-character study written by Bathsheba Doran.
The first mystery is whether college students Charlotte (Connie Fernandez) and her black childhood friend Jonny (Jovon Jacobs) are dating. When, during a shoe-string dinner hosted by Charlotte, she slips in a "honey" when addressing Jonny, her parents Lucinda (Janice Hamilton) and Howard (Wayne Legette) shoot each other a knowing look.
Howard and Lucinda have their own interesting back story. She is a southern aristocrat and homemaker while he is a mystery writer and Jewish. Their marriage got them both ostracized by their families. Proudly progressive, they encourage Charlotte and Jonny to take their relationship to the next level.
But like one of Howard's whodunits, we discover that at first we are seeing things they way Charlotte's parents see them. In subsequent scenes, we look back and realize that those perspectives on the relationships keep shifting for us. "I'm a fan of clarity," Howard repeatedly states, which is why he is so befuddled much of the time as the plot ping pongs around betrayal, friendship, religion, race, homophobia, suicide – and yes – love and sex. There's even an over-arching statement about how we construct a family in the 21st century. Yeah, it's a lot.
To go into anymore detail would be an unforgivable spoiler. Suffice to say that everyone has secrets, some of them delivered like punch lines in a sitcom, others wrenched out like a psycho-drama. "There's something inside of everyone that needs to get out," Charlotte tells Jonny at one point. "And if you don't get it out, it kills you."
What can be said is that director Genie Croft has set the tempo of this production at a filmic pace and the cast seems to have adjusted their acting to something closer to a movie than theater. That part works masterfully even when Doran's script piles on so many themes. It seems the real mystery is how the play could come to anything approaching a conclusion in a fleeting two hours including a 15-minute intermission.
"The Mystery of Love and Sex" runs through Oct. 30 at Arts Garage, 180 N.E. 1st St., Delray Beach, FL. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. matinees Sundays. Tickets are $30-$45. To order, call 561-450-6357 or go to ArtsGarage.org.