First, let me state that I have no issues concerning sexuality that I know of. The discomfort I felt was more than likely due to it interfering with the flow of the story itself. It seemed highly irrelevant to me. It did not advance the plot, it did not serve the story the writer was trying to tell, it was simply gratuitous. And I got that out of a reading, by the way, which enabled it to become even more ridiculous. Because these actors were trying their best to feed sexuality into the moment to make it come to life. It was an inadvertent and uncomfortable humor that sprang into the room rather than any sort of truth did. It was not meant to be funny, but what else could it be? And even had this been a full-on production, I would take issue.
It took me a while to figure out what I was having a problem with. I had dealt with scenes like this before, seen sex played out on stage and felt the same sense of "really?" that I had felt before. And, in times before, my thought was that sexuality and nudity on stage forcefully removed me from the action. I was no longer adhering to a story, I was witnessing a mad display that had nothing to do with anything. And it works on both sides of the brain, the right side considering the logical point of seeing something awkward, the left probably saying something like "yeah, that's hot." However you decide to judge me, just know that these are probably the very same thoughts that cross your mind, you just have the wherewithal not to voice them in such a way. Good for you. But in either case, no matter how your voiced opinion sways, it took me out of the action of the play, and that's what's most important.
My mind took to a different direction this time around. I was now taking myself out of the story in order to consider why this had happened. Was it some deep-seeded prudishness? Was it a more primal calling?
No, it was simply this: Theatre is a display of what is life but more. When we watch a staged story, with real live actors saying rehearsed lines, we do not expect to see what happens between the segments we are witnessing. It's a story about life with all the boring parts taken out. It is life with the volume turned up. And that's where it finds the flaw. Real life is often boring, but sex rarely is when done correctly. Or even incorrectly. Consensual sex is fun. Much more fun than anything that could possibly be represented on a stage. Replicating it on stage is awkward because it can never achieve the "out loud" actuality of sexual congress. It defies the purpose of theatre. It fails to live up to expectations of relating to a dramatic situation by showing something what any number of audience members would have way too much perspective on to not judge. Whatever the witness has experienced at that moment, it is not a step up from their day to day business, it is a step down into an awkwardly worded barrage of sad replication. A writer trying to put himself into such a vulnerable place in order to express a sexualized moment, is really only voicing his own needs and desires, and that makes it even more difficult to watch.
Of course, one might throw back at me an idea that television, movies, and novels do this all the time. And I might throw back this: you can view all three in private and let it affect you in whatever way it will. We have DVDs now that can be watched in private with a pause button, and novels? The pause button was built in centuries ago: stop reading. The theatre has an audience. You are in a room aware of your own conscious thought while others are doing the same. If it weren't so pointless, it might be Brechtian.
There was nothing in these moments that made me think that the story was better served for their presence. In fact, had these moments never happened, I may have been more attentive. I can do sex on my own time. And it will be better than what you wish to read at me. It was a pointless display that could have been easily avoided with the closing of a door, which used to be such a big deal.
There are exceptions, of course. I could point at Kushner and Frayn as being exceptions, but if you see those moments in their work, there is probably a reason beyond some hackneyed regurgitation of what has come before. A play needs to serve a purpose. It does not need to exploit in order to pull in the "sex sells" crowd; we lost them long ago (see:pause button). Imagination is still something that the theatre needs to look toward. Let the faithful become aroused in their own way, don't just try to hand it to them for no real reason. They can hand it to themselves when the need pops up.