About fifteen minutes into Duncan Pflaster‘s play, The Empress of Sex, currently showing as part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, a dramatic crisis point is reached. A character, Pistos, has confessed to being in love with one of his paramours, Neara. In accord with the rules of the community of which he is a voluntary member, his life is forfeit. Love and partnered exclusivity are forbidden in this realm, and the self-proclaimed ruler, Empress Salacia, condemns him duly to death. Only, well, that would be a trifle harsh, so the sentence is commuted to banishment. Phew! Crisis averted.
The play gallops forward setting up another potentially dramatic situation. The past lover of Salacia, the faithless man who has compelled her to forswear and outlaw love in her domain, is arriving on the scene in a bid to re-seduce her. Agis, now rueful and lovesick for Salacia, seeks to reunite and redress the wrong he did her. He comes disguised as a woman for this mission, and is accompanied by Adrianna, his sister – disguised as a man, and by Coriolanus, his servant – who frankly will brook no disguises. The scene is ripe for farce and you don’t have to have seen a Shakespearean comedy to sense that a mess of confusion and misunderstanding waits to unfold. Which it does at lightening speed. Unchecked desires in this libertine society quickly connect ill-matched characters and - oddly amongst the licentious acolytes of Salacia – abruptly deepen into forbidden love attachments. But this spells calamity for Salacia and the domain! Sounds unbelievable? Pflaster, and director Glory Kadigan, have chosen to create a comical, almost cartoon world, where nothing really has to be believable.
The actors here are playing for laughs, broadcasting desires and emotions with eye-popping and lip-smacking expressions; while the play is billed as “An Erotic Romantic Comedy” this production is obviously shooting for comedy over eroticism. Which brings us to another salient feature of this production: there are many parts in this play (nineteen performers) and there are many parts on display. The nudity is real, but it’s all played for comic effect.
Pflaster, in tandem with Kadigan, may very well be on to some new sub-genre in entertainment – a pastiche camp, a formally hybridized spectacle that despairs of drama, winks at burlesque review, and esteems bingo parlor humor. The author has acknowledged a debt to theatrical writer Charles Ludlam (of Irma Vep fame) so perhaps there is a case to be made in favor of a more subversive goal here. The author’s fine language is put in the service of effete play acting and arch silliness; the director encourages mugging on the part of actors, while she also assembles the ensemble into tightly co-ordinated group movements that recall almost a Victorian artificial theatricality. The individual performances are heavily enacted in inverted commas. Except, that is, for Catherine LeFrere who plays the Empress. LeFrere delivers an earnest deadpan performance – even when she is enjoying public cunnilingual congress in her court. This interposition seems to place her in another play all together; which makes her turn the comedy performance of the evening. This is artifice within artifice.
Other notable contributions are made by Matthew Menendez (Coriolanus), the over actor’s over actor; Kelly Zekas (Neara), who actually comes close to deploying subtlety; and Eric Percival, whose female impersonation is as (intentionally?) bad as his masculine turn as Agis is sweet and winsome. Marissa Bergman offers a camply atmospheric, pared-down set, and Izzy Fields some knowing and comedic costumes.
This is as profound a work as a set of pasties – and as compelling. The curtain is going up and there’s a new 21st Century Faux in town.
~~~The Empress of Sex . Benefiting: Planned Parenthood Produced by G-Money Productions Written by Duncan Pflaster Directed by Glory Kadigan
. $18 General Admission $9.00 for Film/Music Participants FREE for Theatre Festivity Participants
. Monday 6/4/12 – 7:30pm = Performance #1 Wednesday 6/6/12 – 9:30pm = Performance #2 Saturday 6/9/12 – 5:30pm = Performance #3 Tuesday 6/12/12 – 4:00pm = Performance #4 Wednesday 6/13/12 – 9:00pm = Performance #5 Sunday 6/17/12 – 9:00pm = Performance #6 Monday 6/18/12 – 4:30pm = Performance #7 Friday 6/22/12 – 9:30pm = Performance #8
At Bleecker Street Theatre (Upstairs) 45 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012 Conveniently located near: Bleecker St (4 & 6) Broadway – Lafayette St (B, D, F, M) Prince St (N, R) .
Click here to purchase tickets.