Review: 'Alfred Kinsey: A Love Story'


Special to Newsday

September 11, 2007

Sex confuses everything. Science, for instance: We don't question the good faith of Stephen Hawking because we suspect he's secretly attracted to black holes. But when a scientist's subject is sex, we simply must know: What's the real agenda? And, really now, what kind of hands-on "research" is the prof up to behind closed doors?

Such tittering speculation has always greeted Alfred Kinsey, the pioneering sex researcher of the 1940s and '50s, who with his books on men's and women's sexual behavior strove mightily to bring a biologist's dispassion to the subject. As influential as Kinsey's findings were and continue to be, they've been regularly second-guessed - re-examined less as science than as crypto-autobiography.

Mike Folie's smart, modestly entertaining new play "Alfred Kinsey: A Love Story," follows this familiar vein and takes its inspiration from well-trod territory: the faintly Oedipal triangle enacted by Kinsey, his young research assistant Clyde Martin and Kinsey's accommodating wife Clara, which also inspired T. Coraghessan Boyle's novel "The Inner Circle," as well as an important thread in Bill Condon's 2004 biopic "Kinsey."

If the material feels familiar, what Folie and a fine, sensitive cast under director Craig J. George do with it makes all the difference. As played with admirable economy and sly magnetism by Wayne Maugans, Kinsey emerges fitfully, and movingly, from under a studiously sexless academic facade to embrace a fleeting passion with Martin, here renamed Sanders (Carter Roy).

By play's end, Kinsey has remade his defenses under another guise: that of a hardened revolutionary who refuses to see that the truth by itself doesn't necessarily make everyone free.

What this approach shoves aside, of course, is the transfiguring, immeasurable power of love. For the gay-leaning Kinsey, this was the rub. Folie's insight is to speculate that Kinsey made the lab into a roomy sort of closet - where everything was allowed except avowed attachment, least of all to another man.

On hand to point this out, and to remind the good doctor that shame and secrecy can be sexy, too, is an ageless madam (Melinda Wade) who presides over Sarah Lambert's blowzy parlor set like a dissolute queen bee. Wade also plays Kinsey's wife with a flawlessly sage snap in a few too-brief scenes.

Roy expertly traces Sanders' arc from youthful swagger to middle-aged resignation, and Jessica Dickey makes sharp, bright dents in a pair of relatively thankless roles. The play's deathbed framing device and narrative time jumps aren't always convincing, though they're deftly handled by George and the cast.

A penultimate slide show illustrating how far we've come since Kinsey's day is a bit embarrassing: Can we really thank him for Ru Paul and Viagra? The ascendant reality of gay marriage, though, would have been a bittersweet triumph for this conflicted liberator who, like Moses, could glimpse but not enter the promised land.

ALFRED KINSEY: A LOVE STORY. By Mike Folie, Directed by Craig J. George. Through Sept. 23 at the Michael Weller Theatre, 311 W. 43rd St., Manhattan. For tickets, call 212-352-3101. Seen Friday.