I’m not going to talk big and act like I know the first thing about what it’s like to work in a New York City Sex Dungeon – or even to step foot through the front door of one for that matter. For all I know, Scout Durwood’s solo show Hi, How Can I Help You? which takes place in the lounge area of a dungeon during the down time between clients on the eve of the 2008 election could be completely representational of every domination house in every city across America. Or, it could be complete fabrication. Truth is, I don’t know.
So I’m going to deal with what I do know here – and that is that Ms. Durwood is an extremely likable, engaging, sometimes goofy, sometimes heartbreaking performer who knows how to rock a huge pair of stiletto platforms while still managing to be funny, soulful, and entertaining.
Part of Ms. Durwood’s shtick is to present the craziness that is the silly world of the women in between their sessions – the cattiness that goes on as they talk trash about each other’s backgrounds, social status and habits, the personal lives that co-mingle in the air along with their cigarette smoke in the smoking room – be it one girl’s obsession with her boyfriend, another’s heartbreak over her ex-girlfriend or anything else that crosses the minds of these women in between clients who seem to be fewer and farther between thanks to strict crackdowns.
Durwood has done a good job of creating an atmosphere of controlled chaos, and without a doubt she has ways of keeping each character unique and distinguishable by giving each of the girls a specific tic, accent, stance or twang. However, as all the girls she represent move through the dungeon and have side conversations and then rejoin each other it’s oftentimes hard to follow who is saying what to whom. There are a few moments when the show might be better serviced if this was a two person show and Durwood had a second in command to play off of.
Having said that, the story may be at a disservice but at no point do you tire of watching Ms. Durwood do her thing. There’s an inherent charm to her delivery that’s simply winning; and that charm is pumped into ever one of her characters at all times.
When she really has the audience in the palm of her hand is when she slows down and lets a character sink in by way of monologue. When the owner, Lisa, for instance “interviews” the new girl by way of telling her own life story Durwood’s true acting chops come forth and she is astonishing as she recounts, as Lisa, how her husband first got into S&M which lead her to discovering this life. Similarly, Durwood’s vocal talents do well with all the bells and whistles (or rather the looper, the kazoo, the ukulele and the recorder) but it’s when, as Jane, she allows her voice to ring out pure and clear as she accompanies herself with nothing but slaps to the palms and thigh that she is at her most heartbreaking – singing a song called “Whiskey on The Brain” about missing a lost love who drinks too much. The moment was so powerful that it stopped the show for me and, I’m sure, for others.
Overall, Hi, How Can I Help You is very entertaining with moments of true brilliance. Ms. Durwood is skilled, funny, talented and most of all, knows how to get the audience wrapped around her finger. My only hope would be to see some of the craziness of this show streamlined a bit so that more of these characters can be fully realized.
~~~Hi, How Can I Help You?
Written by Scout Durwood & Directed by Lucile Baker Scott Presented by Mighty Little Productions Brooklyn, NY The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street) $12
Thu 2/24 @ 10:30pm, Sun 2/27 @ 7pm, Tue 3/1 @ 9pm, Fri 3/4 @ 4pm, & Sat 3/5 @ 8:30pm
FRIGID New York Festival 2011 will run February 23-March 6 at The Kraine Theater & The Red Room (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Ave and Bowery) and UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Ave and Ave A). Tickets ($10-$16) may be purchased online at www.FRIGIDnewyork.info or by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444. All shows will run 60 minutes long or less.