"The Love Boutique" is a brazen little play about sex and fantasy set in the most logical of venues, an adult sex shop.
Playwright Willard Manus' two-character, 45-minute one-act at the Skylight Theater is not exploitative theater but rather a provocative and comically savage drama about sexual repressions unleashed by games of bondage.
If that sounds like lurid stuff, it is--but only up to the point of the props (dildos, inflated live-size dolls, etc.) that re-create a retail sex store. To some theatergoers, who may be paralyzed by flailing whips, chains, leather and paddles, the psychological intent may seem outrageous. Others will find this bizarre, unexpectedly erotic encounter between an up-tight matron and a swarthy clerk giggly, disturbing or downright sobering. Sexologists will have a field day.
Into this love boutique, effectively lit in subdued red, its packaged blandishments stacked like rows of Wheaties, comes a nervous, plain, middle-aged lady (a nice, flustered performance by Jacqueline deHaviland). The store's virile young clerk (crisply played by Hal Groshon) surveys this forlorn, inhibited patron with bemusement.
Gradually, DeHaviland's sexual alarm and anxiety and his soothing solicitation prompt the play's ultimate kinky gamble: A sadomasochistic scene replete with chains, leather and a paddling sequence.
She sees stars--hatefully. But that's not the play's coup de grace . Angrily, she provokes the smug clerk into the same bondage, and he is sent soaring. Freed from their chains and humiliation, feigning disdain, they both heatedly scoff at the experience. And the bondage game turns into the denial game, until one of them breaks--not the one you'd expect.
The play is flawed (the characters need more development) and it indulges an obvious license (the S & M, however phantasmargoric, is set up too quickly and in a context where other customers may intrude at any moment). But, conceptually, the play, with darkly comical undertones, brashly explodes sexual repression and director Walter Olkewicz does not allow you to leer--well, almost not.
For actors DeHaviland and Groshon, it's a stretch and a risk that many actors wouldn't take. They negotiate it with skill.
Performances are at 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Fridays and Saturdays, 10:45 p.m., indefinitely. Tickets: $6; (213) 466-1767.