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cogency
12, Nov 2017

TouchTones: the danger of phone sex

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

TouchTones, a new musical comedy by Michael Hollinger and Robert Maggio. Arden Theater, Philadelphia PA.
 

TouchTones, the latest play by Michael Hollinger, deals with phone sex, and how it affects the romance of a young couple. A simple first act is followed by a second with more depth. As the play develops we see it’s only minimally about titillation and more about the need for people to be honest with each other.

Hollinger collaborated with Robert Maggio, the composer of string quartets, ballets and orchestral pieces. The result is a musical comedy with catchy tunes, and with a story that’s a bit off the beaten track.

In the opening scene we see two 17-year-olds in a Christian group where everyone wears “I Love Chastity” T-shirts as they sing inspirational songs. The time is 1997, chosen for a reason which will soon become apparent. Scene Two is five years later and they’re still abstinent, but Christine (an earnest Alex Keiper) is impatient and horny, while Justin (the peripatetic Michael Doherty) remains a devout believer in their commitment.

Justin, however, has been gratifying himself by paying a phone-sex professional to talk dirty with him. Christine is shocked when she discovers that, and she goes to the company’s office — TouchTones — to confront her fiancé’s temptress. She winds up taking a job there herself.

Who is the more guilty party? That’s the putative question in this play, but we shouldn’t worry much about that because this is a light comedy. TouchTones is fine entertainment, but I can’t put it in a class with Red Herring among Hollinger’s great comedies, nor his serious dramas.

The action was set in 2002 because phone sex companies proliferated then. After 1997, computers and camcorders afforded an easy alternative. In this script, the change in technology puts such a dent into TouchTones’s income that the company has to close its office.

Emmanuelle Delpech directs breezily, with a fine set by Tim Mackabee. Joilet F. Harris, Jess Conda, Kevin R. Free, April Ortiz and Darick Pead give strong performances as Christine’s co-workers. Almost all of the development centers on Keiper as Christine. Doherty is given less to do, but his moves are greatly entertaining.

** Doherty proposed marriage to Keiper on stage after the November 11 performance. **

Below, the happy couple: