Times Square is famously cleaned up. The daily degradation that fueled its once overwhelming sex business has dwindled to a few insipid DVD shops and largely sanitary shows on offer at so-called “Gentlemen’s Clubs.” Yet it turns out you can take the skin out of Broadway, but you can’t take the skin out of Broadway. It’s just that nowadays the audience is required to keep its pants on–and a quarter doesn’t travel quite as far. Another difference, as any two-bit shrink can tell you, is that sex is different from Intimacy, which happens to be the name of a hot (so to speak) new show on 42nd Street. As a culture, we’re no longer after that cheap, lurid, anonymous sexual titillation that used to power the dirty streets (and dreams) of Midtown. And if we do want something like that, we’ll turn on the computer. No, the new nudity is classy by comparison and always in service to something greater than itself: dramaturgy. For theatrical realism, we must admit we spend some time naked and usually get damn excited about it. Intimacy just shows us as we are.
But even no-nonsense reality has to compete. The stage has to scrap against navel-gazing reality TV–housewives, Kardashians, et al–showing us its underwear and, at the other end of the spectrum, things like Avatar’s hyper-real 3-D flooding our senses. What can a small theater production do that James Cameron and $200 million can’t? In a word, semen. People in the front rows of Intimacy might get hit by flying semen (a replica, anyway). Tactile ejaculation like this will remind you, in a way even the Wolf of Wall Street can’t, that lust can get messy. Scumbag, after all, used to be just slang for condom. There was Hair back when, of course, and Harry Potter himself went all tabula rasa in Equus in 2007. But those were less, um, interactive than Intimacy–which is as it should be. If intimacy isn’t messy, what’s everybody so afraid of? The New York Times wrote last year that New York theater was getting pretty comfortable naked. The Times knows about peep shows and deep shows alike. Its influential theater coverage still emerges from Times Square, which was named for the newspaper over a hundred years ago. Intimacy is what the play is about but it describes just as well the theater’s relationship with its audience. Sometimes the computer just won’t do.
Related: The entertainment writer, and Gore Vidal biographer, Tim Teeman gets some answers from the cast here at the Daily Beast.