an old-fashioned comedy: (l-r) Caroline Lawton, Jefferson
Slinkard and David Sedgwick in Nilsson’s Mr. Sensitivity.
on the Fringe
just amusing myself, trying to think of the most offensive
opening line I could think of for a one-act play, and I came
up with the line: ‘You want me to fuck your wife in the ass?’
That evolved into a little dialogue between two guys, and
then it just made sense that one of them should be a porno
star. Then I brought the wife in and suddenly it became a
It may not be the customary sort of creative spark, but the
method—or madness— worked for Metroland food (and classical-music)
critic extraordinaire B.A. Nilsson. The resulting play opened
at the SoHo Playhouse this weekend as part of Manhattan’s
illustrious New York International Fringe Festival. Billed
as “Noises Off meets Deep Throat” and, according
to Nilsson, “riotously offensive,” Mr. Sensitivity
revolves around Grady, a bookish man who, struggling with
feelings of inadequacy, buys his wife what he thinks will
be the ultimate birthday surprise: one uninhibited hour with
porn star Barry Woodman.
Despite the obvious edginess, Nilsson describes Mr. Sensitivity
as an old- fashioned comedy. “It’s really just a bedroom farce
that happens to have a lot of dirty talk in it.” In fact,
he says, some of the play’s best gems are the domestic arguments,
often borrowed from the best he’s had over the years with
his wife. “But anytime we’ve read the play somewhere,” he
adds, “there’s always someone else who says, ‘oh my god, that’s
the argument we have!’ I guess there’s a universality about
Nilsson had submitted work to the festival—which has launched
such hits as Urinetown, Dog Sees God and Debbie
Does Dallas—in the past, to no avail. “I guess I was submitting
things that were too clean or conventional, or both,” he says.
When a friend called to see if he’d submitted anything for
this year’s festival, Nilsson had forgotten. But on a whim
he responded: “I’ve got this really dirty script here that
I can’t imagine anyone would ever produce. Why don’t I send
that?” It was just the ticket.
While Nilsson is most familiar to Metroland readers
for his decades-long tenure as a food critic, he is a true
Jack-of-all-trades, and no stranger to the world of theater.
His play Drivers was produced at New York’s Ensemble
Studio Theatre, other works premiered at Lake George Opera
Company and Mohonk Mountain House. A veteran of the New York
State Theatre Institute stage, he has performed there in more
than a decade’s worth of roles. NYSTI cohort and Russell Sage
professor David Baeker directs the play, and the team has
drawn on both New York talent and local connections to round
out cast and crew.
Bringing Mr. Sensitivity to life finds Nilsson donning
yet another hat—producer—an adventure he says has been “quite
A big education, and a big risk; Nilsson refinanced his family’s
home to fund the production. So far, he says, the risk has
been worth it.
since Urinetown came out of this, everyone who has
a show in the Fringe Fest hopes that it’s the next one that
gets picked up. I’m no different,” he says. “But even if nothing
happens, this has been exactly what I’ve always wanted to
His latest hat seems a comfortable fit. “Playwright-producer.
Yeah,” he chuckles with quiet satisfaction, “I can deal with
more details on Mr. Sensitivity, including a performance
schedule and ticket information, visit mr-sensitivity .com.