This cream is at the center of Portland-born playwright Craig Jessen's new, somewhat patchy work, directed by Brandon Woolley at Theatre Vertigo. A scientist named Sam (Stephanie Cordell) inadvertently develops the drug, first realizing its effect when her lab rabbits stop having sex and instead stroke each other incessantly (you'll have to picture this for yourself—the production features no furry mammals). The play unfolds over the course of several months and introduces us to the drug-trial participants, who range from a woman who seizes up whenever penetration is attempted to a pig farmer with a disturbing fondness for his livestock. That the latter character doesn't come off as a crass hick is a small miracle; Kelsey Tyler turns in a portrayal that's sympathetic, even warm.
Yet the sex cream, even as it causes more onstage orgasms than at the average Rocky Horror screening, proves less interesting than other parts of the play. Jessen misses an opportunity to ask about the drug's purpose: Is it real medical treatment, or is it something to store by the vibrator in the bedside drawer, allowing you to get off in novel ways? Genitals are so complicated—why not just fondle your partner's forearm instead?
More compelling is the examination of workplace dynamics, whether bashful stabs at flirtation or misguided moves that verge on sexual assault. Sam's insistence on total authority over the drug trials might seem controlling, but perhaps she's just taken Sheryl Sandberg's advice to "lean in." As Sam, Cordell oozes exasperation but lacks subtlety, and she's hurt by a narrative thread about her floundering marriage. There's little reason to invest: Her journalist husband, as played by Jason Glick, is dishwater-dull, his hand snaking down his sweats whenever yoga classes come on TV. (He's also part of the script's most distracting implausibility, that he would be given the exclusive scoop on his wife's invention.)
Others fare better: Beth Thompson is an effervescent presence, and R. David Wyllie has a nice turn as the shy, stammering assistant. They gamely march through what can be an overwritten, spotty script—Jessen stuffs some exchanges with excess background and ends other scenes too abruptly. As is, The End of Sex isn't an unsatisfying romp, but with additional finesse, it might just hit the sweet spot.
SEE IT: The End of Sex is at the Shoebox Theater, 2110 SE 10th Ave., 306-0870. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays through Feb. 15. $20.