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Aphrodisiac

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Presented by 13P at P.S. 122, 150 First Ave., NYC, Jan. 9-30.

The intersection of political power and sexual dalliance gets some heavy traffic in "Aphrodisiac." Inspired by the 2001 scandal surrounding Gary Condit, then a U.S. congressman from California, and his relationship with a missing female Washington intern, playwright Rob Handel spins an intriguing tale examining the impulses that can ignite such liaisons and their potential for violence, as well as the impact such situations can have on those not directly involved.

Handel's central characters are Avery and Alma Ferris, the son and daughter of Rep. Dan Ferris, who becomes a key figure in the investigation into the disappearance of a Washington volunteer. As the siblings seek to talk themselves through the shadow that has suddenly enveloped them, they ponder how much they actually know about their father. They attempt to put themselves into the psyches of their parents and the woman who has suddenly become such an important figure in their lives, and in Pirandello-like passages they move in and out of some intense role-playing. The Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair also echoes loudly throughout their ponderings and, at one point, Lewinsky herself—or at least her apparition—appears to present her view of her White House affair.

Handel never resolves his story line, but he delivers a lot of incisive writing designed to make the audience think as well as feel. And a splendid cast, astutely directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, brings his script arrestingly to life. Jennifer Dundas wins sympathy without begging for it as Alma, and when she takes on the role of a troubled mistress, she's a loose canon to be feared. Whether pontificating on Washington stratagems or riffing on Bill Clinton's personality, Thomas Jay Ryan's Avery is a blabbermouth you can't help listening to. Finally, Alison Weller provides more than a touch of magic realism as she eerily channels Monica Lewinsky.

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