Cries and Whispers: DF and CK review Shhhh at Atlantic Theater (for Parterre Box)

Claire Barron's SHHH!, which
Constance Shulman and Janice Amaya in SHHHH! at Atlantic Theater Company

David Fox: When writing about a play that unabashedly is first and foremost about female sexuality and kinky proclivities, I’m discovering that almost every phrase sounds like a double-entendre. Oh well, screw it: Shhhh has a great opening. In murky darkness, we barely perceive actress Constance Shulman, seated in a window above the rear of stage. A faint whisper comes at us: Shulman’s wonderfully weird voice, dry and crackly as old twigs, is simultaneously ancient and infantile. What she’s talking about—household items, favorite drinks—hardly registers. Instead, what we get is something beyond the words: an unmistakable sense of a secretive, alluring, illicit world. Sounds of crinkling paper, louder than the voice, add additional creepiness. Though the light gradually increases, the sense of mystery remains through this monologue. I found it, and Shulman, absolutely riveting. Too bad it’s downhill from here. 

Cameron Kelsall: In that opening sequence, Shulman performs a narration meant to stimulate autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, a physical sensation triggered by whispering, white noise and other stimuli that might seem mundane out of context. It’s a phenomenon that can be erotic and euphoric to some and repulsive to others. That could describe most of what Clare Barron considers in Shhhh, which seems in constant conversation with the concepts of boundaries, consent, and gray areas. The characters talk, sometimes at length, about their sexual peccadilloes—sometimes, they enact them. Embedded in the discursive scenes that make up the 100-minute play is the notion that the line between pleasure and pain—of the corporeal and psychological varieties—is ever-shifting and often problematically conceived. Yet it didn’t work for me as either an act of titillation or a discourse on sexual politics. On one hand, sex and kink strike me as contact sports, meaningful to those fully engaged but largely blasé to others. On another, Barron’s script cosplays discomfort without ever seeking to make the audience actually uncomfortable….

Click here to read the complete post at Parterre Box.

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