Brooklyn Brothers Behaving Badly in Jeff Tabnick’s Latest Play

Lovers’ spats and uncomfortable silences at the dinner table during “The Intimacy Effect.”

Good drama can make you feel invigorated, challenged, and able to see the world with fresh eyes. But it can also make an audience uncomfortable. And that’s a good thing.

If you’re ready to squirm in your seat a bit, Jeff Tabnick’s latest work, The Intimacy Effect, certainly doesn’t pass itself off as a light comedy. Here’s the elevator pitch from the writer himself: “Matt Appel is a stay-at-home dad who struggles with his temper. On his 40th birthday, a pregnant woman shows up at his apartment and convinces his wife that she’s pregnant with Matt’s baby. Matt’s wife is surprised that she feels this great sense of relief that she now has a reason to leave her husband. When the allegations prove to be false, his wife has to reckon with that feeling of relief.”

All these messy emotions and situations come up during the course of a dinner party with Matt and his brother (who has committed his own share of morally questionable deeds) and both of their wives. Among other things, the play explores how we reconsider our partner’s behavior once we have kids. What are the parts of ourselves that we need to suppress to be good partners and parents, and what is the cost of that suppression?

jeff tabnick
One of many awkward moments during a dinner party gone awry in The Intimacy Effect.

Clearly, Tabnick is drawn to characters with dark secrets. (Some years ago, he had a hit play in the New York International Fringe Festival with the provocative title, I Found Her Tied to My Bed.) “I’m most compelled when there’s some blood on the page,” the writer admits. “I’d rather see a well-observed play about a writer wrestling with his art than an issue play that feels like it’s checking off boxes.” He goes on to explain that The Intimacy Effect asks questions about social and political issues, “but the anxieties are mine.”

Some theatergoers may not be familiar with the venue, which is curated by the show’s producer, the adventurous Vital Joint. In director Eric Nightengale’s cozy configuration, 35 audience members sit around the kitchen table where most of the action takes place. Nightengale clearly wants us to feel like we’re eavesdropping on the characters as they grapple with issues of sexual consent, child rearing, and physical violence.

“It’s really appealing to me that the space very much looks like the apartment where the play takes place,” Tabnick says. “But it’s also clearly a theatrical space. And the tension between those two arenas is exactly where the play lives.”

Why You Should Go: A smart and darkly humorous play probes the underside of married life—up close and in your face.

The Intimacy Effect
Vital Joint
109 Meserole Street, Williamsburg
Thursday–Saturday, through October 14
8 p.m.

Proceed with caution if you’re taking a date to this uneasy play…but we can arrange a table at a quiet lounge for postshow drinks and discussion.