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Just an old-fashioned comedy: (l-r) Caroline Lawton, Jefferson Slinkard and David Sedgwick in Nilsson’s Mr. Sensitivity.

Life on the Fringe

‘Iwas 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 two-act show.”

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 that.”

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 an education.”

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.

“Ever 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 do.”

His latest hat seems a comfortable fit. “Playwright-producer. Yeah,” he chuckles with quiet satisfaction, “I can deal with that.”

—Kathryn Geurin

For more details on Mr. Sensitivity, including a performance schedule and ticket information, visit mr-sensitivity .com.

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