“Leonora Rabinowitz, I Love You,” is part comedy, part drama, and part public service health announcement from playwright-director-physician Hal Cohen.

The play is set in the present day, at the home of 60-something Jane and at New York sex therapist Leonora’s Peaks Island summer home. It delves into the nearly cosmic topic of human sexuality – and our discomfort with it – that feels at once deeply personal, yet as untouchable as vastest outer space. Set designer Michael J. Tobin switches us between these two places deftly, with subtle changes to the decor, including a framed New Age admonition, “Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone,” that let us know where we are.

Indeed, by the time we meet Leonora Rabinowitz, (who is supposed to be on vacation but who knows that a real mensch never takes a holiday), it’s already made clear that Cohen will be taking his audience outside any comfort zone. He uses sex for laughs and to steam things up, as much theater does. But he does so with great care, and he “goes there,” tackling subjects like consent and pain, that can ruin sex and any attendant joys.

This is a very funny play, and the humor serves it well, rescuing the audience many times over from discomfort, despite the show’s many fraught, even awkward, topics and situations. (This play is for grown-ups; find a babysitter.) And that many moments will seem all too familiar to many people won’t always be much of a salve for some.

Daughter Valerie (Amanda Painter, who also collaborated with Cohen as he developed the script from a PortFringe show to this full-length play) is seeking to push her widowed mother, Jane, (Jackie Oliveri) to live a fuller, less lonely life, and sex is part of Valerie’s prescription.

But of course, it turns out, the seemingly modern, liberated Valerie, who’s says that noncommittal sex is all she wants, may also not be getting what she needs.

Enter Leonora Rabinowitz, a sex therapist who serves as a sort of present-day fairy godmother. Rachel Flehinger gives her an irresistible, lovable, wise, and even flamboyant, charisma. But Flehinger’s Leonora Rabinowitz is also utterly trustworthy. She’s a therapist drawn in the tradition of Ordinary People – the best-selling book by Judith Guest and the Oscar-winning film adaptation – in which an off-beat therapist is arguably the hero of the story, a rescuer of his patient’s – and maybe the audience’s – soul-killing adherence to arbitrary social rules.

There are times when this play is somewhat didactic and expository; perhaps that is Dr. Cohen doing his own due diligence. And perhaps it’s necessary; there are few people who couldn’t use a session or two with the likes of Leonora Rabinowitz (maybe even some who welcome the benefit from her ultimate prescription, a sex surrogate). Cohen, as noted, pads the impact of his topic, his characters’ rough-going, and a few R-rated scenes with jocularity. But don’t let the comedy fool you; Cohen also employs a great deal of empathy, too. “Leonora Rabinowitz, I Love You,” is funny and warm, and you will love her too.

Daphne Howland is a freelance writer based in Portland.


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