by Barbara Waldinger

 In describing Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, director Margo Whitcomb refers to “the common and overused device of an older celebrity professor and a young female student.” What makes this play unique is that Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch has written it from the male point of view—and therein lies the rub.

The 42-year-old professor at a world class college, award-winning novelist Jon Macklem (Christopher Patrick Mullen), is suffering from depression because his third wife has left him.  Much of the play consists of his monologues, delivered to the audience in the third person (the reason for which is not clarified until the ending).  These monologues express Jon’s thoughts and highly charged feelings about the women in his life, including the girl in a red coat, who turns out to be Annie (Abby Burris), one of his young students, with whom he has an affair.  Thinking about his attraction to Annie, Jon refers to mediocre male novelists whose work often features a young girl “grossly underwritten, a cipher, a sex object, reduced to a cliché by lust-addled men.” Given our #MeToo generation we might assume that a female writer would do just the opposite:  she would give the major role to a woman who was exploited by a powerful man. But in Sexual Misconduct in the Middle Classes, it seems that Annie is arguably reduced to a female sex object despite the fact that the play was written by a female.  Annie, seeking Jon’s opinion of an essay she wrote about an earlier sexual encounter (presumably with someone her own age), is delighted to learn that Jon thinks her writing is very good.  For his part, Jon is relieved because her talent justifies his having singled her out in the first place.  Besides, wasn’t she the one who passed his house on the way to hers, often stopping on his porch to talk with him, and always choosing to sit in the first row in class? This multi-layered, ninety-minute puzzle of a play haunts its audience long after leaving the theatre. 

Bridge Street Theatre is now presenting the American premiere of Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, the 2021 recipient of the Governor General (of Canada’s) Award in the category of English Language Drama.  It must have been quite a challenge for everyone concerned to bring this play to life.  The Set and Lighting designer, John Sowle, displayed the title of each scene above the stage (at the suggestion of the playwright), and had to locate or build easy-to-move set pieces that could be added, removed and lit in record time.  Costume designer Michelle Rogers not only provided small costume changes between scenes but also found a way to use costumes to age the characters as time passed.  The actors have their own obstacles to overcome: Christopher Patrick Mullen, whose resume includes years of experience, must attempt to retain the sympathy of the audience while describing Jon’s unacceptable behavior with a teenager, but he is well up to the task.  In addition, this unconventional script contains all sorts of pauses, silences, interruptions, unfinished thoughts, sometimes single words (one scene begins with “So, yeah, yes, he uh. . . ! yeah”).   Mullen fills those gaps with context and thoroughly inhabits Jon, while dashing from scene to scene spilling out his guilt to his rapt listeners.  Surprisingly, this is Abby Burris’ professional stage debut, after recently graduating from SUNY-Purchase.  Yet she holds her own amidst Annie’s very awkward attempts to connect with this older male celebrity, having been a fan of his novels throughout high school.  She has never fit in with her contemporaries and signs up for Jon’s class because she “wants the living version of the feeling I get when I read your work.”  Above all, she desperately needs to be liked.  Watching the interactions between Burris and Mullen feels almost voyeuristic—their moment-to-moment portrayals are detailed and sensitive.  As Annie becomes older and more confident, finding her own voice, Burris projects that development in her vocal work and bearing.  On the other hand, Mullen heads in the opposite direction, becoming more vulnerable and self-hating, less composed, as Jon ages.  

Director Margo Whitcomb skillfully guides the actors through what she refers to as “this gnarly and transcendent text,” praising them for their courage in wrestling with this material.  She must have provided a safe and healthy environment, apparently without the help of an intimacy coordinator, judging from the triumphant performances.  Whitcomb is also responsible for the Sound Design: lively guitar music between scenes–sometimes instrumental and sometimes with vocals– effectively coordinating with the quick pace of the set changes.

Though some viewers may prefer less monologue and more dialogue, this fascinating play offers much to think about and is well worth a trip to the Bridge Street Theatre.

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes runs from October 13—October 23, 2022 at Bridge Street Theatre; Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased by calling 518-943-3818 or online at

Bridge Street Theatre presents the U.S. Premiere of Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes by Hannah Moscovitch.  Directed by Margo Whitcomb.

Cast:  Christopher Patrick Mullen (Jon Macklem), Abby Burris (Annie).  Set and Lighting Designer:  John Sowle; Costumes by Michelle Rogers; Sound Design by Margo Whitcomb.  Production Stage Manager:  Kiara Vedovino.  

Running Time:  90 minutes, no intermission.  Bridge Street Theatre, 44 West Bridge Street, Catskill, NY.; from October 13; closing October 23.

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