March 2, 2015

The detective work in The Mystery of Love & Sex, a perfectly wonderful new play by Bathsheba Doran that opened on Monday at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater, extends well beyond the matters of high importance referred to in the title. In this tender and funny exploration of the lives of two couples from two generations, Ms. Doran also probes such fertile mysteries as the fluidity of identity, our ability to keep secrets from both our family and even ourselves, and the difficulty — and the rewards — of forgiveness. Nevertheless, love and sex are very much at the center of the play, which is among the season’s finest so far. Ms. Doran (Kin) delves into so many matters of the heart that her play gains an almost dizzying momentum. By the end you may feel giddy, as if you’d just stepped off a whirling theme-park ride. Although there are just four characters onstage (very briefly a fifth), Ms. Doran’s drama is so packed with humanity that it seems infinitely larger, like a chart depicting the sexual and emotional anatomy of us all. Charlotte (Gayle Rankin) and Jonny (Mamoudou Athie) are hosting a dinner for her parents as the play opens. They are still in college, so the trappings are as modest as the meal, which is basically a salad and some bread. The Southern-reared Lucinda (Diane Lane) takes this in stride, chirping perhaps a few times too many about how “bohemian” it all is, while Howard (Tony Shalhoub), who’s Jewish and from New York, grimaces at the prospect of sitting on the floor and eating bread with no butter. (Mr. Shalhoub makes a priceless bit of comedy from Howard’s complicated attempt to wedge himself under the low table.)