HURT SO GOOD
By Johnny Blaze Leavitt
Directed by Johnny Blaze Leavitt & Suse Sternkopf
Reviewed by Michael Criscuolo, nytheatre.com
Aug 31, 2006
Equal parts expose and sex-ed class, Johnny Blaze Leavitt's new comedy
Hurt So Good is also one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises
of the still-young theatre season. Smart and engaging, Leavitt's story
of one man's initiation into the world of BDSM teaches tolerance, encourages
diversity, and reminds us that love and sex aren't confined to the little
vanilla breadbox we often want to keep them in.
Tom is an aspiring documentary filmmaker whose soon-to-be live-in girlfriend,
Cecily, has a surprising confession: she's a sexual submissive who wants
him to dominate her. Having no idea what exactly that means, Tom sets
out to learn more. He gathers up his film crew and embarks on a journey
into the BDSM subculture to find out how to be a proper master, what
being a submissive entails, and get some good footage for a new documentary
project. Of course, Tom and his intrepid crew discover some unexpected
things about themselves and each other along the way.
Leavitt succeeds on several fronts with Hurt So Good. First
of all, his play is funny. Hurt So Good has a lot of fun ribbing
both its protagonists and its subject. When telling his best friend,
Keller, about Cecily's revelation, Tom immediately conjures images of
leather-clad sadists in a dark dungeon. "Dude, I can't do any of
that stuff!" he exclaims, "I mean, I don't even have a basement!"
Later on, Keller protests Tom's suggestion that the film crew attend
its first fetish party. The reason? "It's in Queens!" In Act
II, while pondering the morality of having a female submissive (played
perfectly by Maggie Cino) clean their apartment, Tom and Keller both
pause long enough to note that "the place looks great, though."
Second, this is skillful writing. Leavitt surrounds Tom with a crew
that represents several opposing viewpoints: there's Mairi, the quiet
one who goes with the flow; Keller, the smart-ass who makes fun of everything
(sometimes as a defense mechanism); and the tightly-wound Rebecca, who
freaks out when confronted with something that doesn't jibe with her
beliefs. The beauty of his writing here is that this device never feels
likes one. When Tom & Co. debate the validity of their documentary
and the BDSM lifestyle (which is often), their arguments come off as
believable disputes between friends and co-workers.
Leavitt also demystifies common misconceptions about the BDSM community,
putting the image of dungeon-dwelling masochists quickly to rest as
Tom & Co. come into contact with a smorgasbord of people who, while
firmly entrenched in the lifestyle, turn out to be just regular folks.
They may do things a little differently in their relationships (and
their bedrooms) than others, but they still want love, compassion, and
understanding just like everybody else. And, their relationships are
governed by the same tenets: trust, consent, and communication. Leavitt
does a great job of making the lifestyle palatable and un-scary for
Hurt So Good is also blessed with a compelling immediacy that
throws the audience right into the thick of things, experiencing the
play's eye-opening twists and turns along with the protagonists. But
Leavitt (who also directs, assisted ably by Suse Sternkopf) never handles
any of the play's potentially sensitive moments—which include
the film crew's first trip to sex toy store, and Tom's first administering
of a spanking to a willing sub—in a way that's distasteful or
uncomfortable for the audience (this is a comedy, after all). What's
life-altering for the characters is fun-and-games for the audience.
The production is complemented by a marvelous ensemble cast of 23. There
are many standout performances including Marlise Garde, Chris Keating,
and Alyssa Mann as the fish-out-of-water film crew Rebecca, Keller,
and Mairi, respectively; Jessie J. Fahay as Cecily; Sonia Gardea as
Mistress Lyla, a dominatrix who is the crew's first point of contact;
Amy Kersten, a Wonder Woman-clad sub who proves to be a sticking point
later on; and Gerard J. Savoy as Master Anthony, an intense but seductive
dom who befriends the film crew. Anchoring the production is an endearing
lead performance by Leavitt as Tom.
Hurt So Good achieves what good theatre aims to do: it entertains
while encouraging the viewer to question and examine their own beliefs.
If the subject matter sounds a little frightening to some, there's comfort
to be found in the maxim laid down by one of the characters who tells
Tom, "Fear itself can be fun." Indeed.
nytheatre.com for complete review
"Once Upon a Time"
Fairy Tale Monologues: Fables with Attitude
By Paul Weissman
Directed by Jeff Love
Reviewed by Deidre McFadyen, offoffonline.com
In recent decades, literary scholars have fastened on fairy tales as a key
to unlocking the mysteries of the national psyche.
Monologues: Fables With Attitude, in a sometimes wickedly funny and
subversive production... takes this premise and runs with it, reimagining
these age-old stories as miniature psychodramas and endowing the inhabitants
of Fairyland with modern identities and motives...
The press release promises that the fairy-tale characters will "tell
you what really happens when their story ends. Is it truly 'Happily Ever
After'?" But writer Paul Weissman does more: he relays each tale's
aftermath but also reimagines the tale itself as well as the events preceding
In the funniest sketch (the only one that's not a monologue), Hansel and
Gretel, two wide-eyed, doughy German children dressed in lederhosen, explain
where they were last night to their stepmother (whom we neither hear nor
see). Gretel's attempt to present a plausible alibi is undermined at each
turn by Hansel's interjections about candy-cane houses and witches, propelling
the girl to concoct in exasperation the fairy tale's twists and turns. Triumph
swiftly turns to frenzied denials when their stepmother informs them that
she's just been on the phone with Rapunzel's mom, who presented a different
version of events. Love and Alyssa Mann offer precisely synchronized, pitch-perfect
portrayals of the not so innocent kinder.
The other standout monologue of the evening is delivered by the Big Bad
Wolf, played by the brawny Gerard J. Savoy with just the right combination
of piqued pride and smarminess. The wolf argues half-convincingly to the
audience that he's gotten "a bad rap." A construction contractor
and father of "a couple of litters," the wolf recounts how he
was unfairly exiled for burning down the houses of the three pigs (for whom
he cannot conceal his contempt) and later found companionship with Granny
until Little Red Riding Hood—a self-absorbed teenage grandchild—enters
Fairytale Monologues shows that children's fairy tales can be the source
of great humor, and an artful mirror of the human condition.
offoffonline.com for the complete review
A Midwinter's Tale
By Kenneth Branagh, adapted by Johnny Blaze Leavitt
Directed by Jeff Love and Johnny Blaze Leavitt
Reviewed by Jason Tyne, Theatrescene.net
... In A Midwinter's Tale Joe Harper (Johnny Blaze Leavitt) leads a band
of misfit actors in his production of Hamlet. Leavitt has a similar task
ahead of him to bring Midwinter's Tale to fruition, although in this case
he is aided by a first-rate cast of actors...
Especially charming are Nina Raymond (Karron Karr), the flirtatious ing’nue
who adamantly refuses to wear glasses even though she can't make an entrance
without tripping over her own feet, and Carnforth Greville (Gerard J. Savoy)
who has a combination of stage fright, alcoholism, and a failure complex
relating to his mother. The ensemble delves into the specificity of their
characters with a virtuosity that makes the characters both funny and touching...
Johnny Blaze Leavitt ... and Jeff Love excel as co-directors. The brilliance
of this production lies in its attention to detail. Keep your eyes open
for each minutia, for even the costumes and props (designed by Karron Karr)
are imbued with exacting amounts of humor... the lighting design (Jeff Love)
is remarkable with blackouts that are timed with extreme comic precision...
Whether you're a theatre person, a fan of the original film or of British
humor in general there's a little bit of something for everyone in this
the Theatrescene.net website for the complete review
"Hands Across the Sea"
By Judy Klass
Directed by Jeff Love
Review by David Mackler, Off-Off Broadway Theatre Review
Judy Klass's Transatlantic has grand intentions - few plays would bother
to invoke British philosopher John Stuart Mill and his relationship with
proto-feminist Harriet Taylor (platonic, yet it still shocked Victorian
England)... The cultures clashing were between Americans Bernie and Lori
Greenfield and Brits Fiona and Nicholas Thorpe.... There was some amusing
slapstick by the hapless Lori [Valerie David]... [Johnny Blaze] Leavitt
underplayed nicely as the unassuming Nick - he was able to make an antisemitic
faux pas seem character driven, and he made Nick's growing intimacy with
Lori seem natural... All of this was presented on a well-appointed and
-designed set (Love and Virginia Sassman) that included enough detail
to believably be an apartment in London, or living quarters back on this
side of the big pond. Costumes (Sassman) similarly were real and believable,
from Nick's suits to Lori's lack of style...
Box Score: Writing: 0 Directing: 0 Acting: 1 Sets: 1 Costumes: 1 Lighting/Sound:
the OOBR website for the complete review
"Not all about the sexes"
Women and Men
by Judy Klass, Johnny Blaze Leavitt, and Jeff Love
Directed by Valentina Cardinalli, Chris Keating, and Jeff Love
Review by Andres J. Wrath, Off-Off Broadway Theatre Review
Point of You Productions is a new company of actors, directors, and writers
who, as the mission statement says, "are not to give the world answers
but to pose the questions it should be asking." Usually such statements
are cause for alarm (like the idea but yeah, right...) but not in this
case... their four one-acts had enough raw talent to make one stand up
and take note...
the OOBR website for the complete review
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