Bray New World: Donkey Punch

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NY Theater Review by JK Clarke

 

 

 

 

In these days of sexual hyper-liberation and unmitigated access to a vast array of pornography on the Internet, sexuality and alternative sexual interests are more freely and openly discussed (and accepted) than ever before. What was once taboo is now commonplace and what was once unspeakable is open for discussion amongst friends. It is no longer progressive to merely be young, unmarried and sexually active, but the variety and exoticness of one’s activity is the hallmark of hip or cool. While that’s superficially at the core of Micheline Auger’s Donkey Punch—now playing at the SoHo Playhouse—it’s merely a mask for a nuanced discussion of love, relationships and personal transition.

 

Donkey Punch is the story of two friends, Kareena (Cleo Gray) and Sam (Lauren Dortch-Crozer) and how their personal struggles impact their relationship. Kareena, an ambitious, socially active, sexually-charged attorney, is in a seemingly ideal relationship with Teddy (Michael Drew), the epitome of a “nice guy.” Sam, on the other hand is hopelessly single, reserved, and considered “prude” by her friend. But Kareena wants to fix her up, and when Sam finally consents to go out with Kyle (Jon McCormick) she is drawn out by the charmer—who turns out also to be a pornographer—and she blossoms . . . in many different ways. Unfortunately, Kareena is the type of person whose life has been defined by success and competition, so much so that she probably considers herself “better at sex” than her peers (she’s even incapable of allowing her partner a day off from lovemaking). It’s another game that she has to win and Sam’s newfound sexual rapture galls her. Driven (as she apparently always has been) by one upmanship, Kareena proceeds to sabotage every single relationship in the play.

 

While the play really isn’t about the sexual act in question, the “donkey punch”—a subgenre of a rather violent category of fetishistic pornography—it does deal with the impact that these various forms of sexual liberation have on identity and both societal and personal expectations. Kareena’s sex drive seems to have emerged out of a need to be different: “I just never wanted to be one of those whiny little victimy bitches,” she whines. But what really motivates her is the need to be one of the guys, not one of the girls “reading another fucking dating book. Guys don’t do that. Makes me want to puke.” Sam, on the other hand, arrives at sexual liberation the other way around, discovering her self through sexual expression. By the end of the play, no one is who we (or sometimes they) thought they were at the beginning.

 

Aided by Auger’s sharp, witty and well-crafted script, this production benefits from strong performances from both Dortch-Crozer and Gray. They have believable chemistry as friends, and Gray’s slick comic timing allows her to come across as someone masking her feelings—almost everything she utters is a well-delivered barb or wisecrack.

 

Despite an overall strong production, thanks to Audrey Alford’s direction, some design elements were lacking. The apartment set was strangely anachronistic. Kareena is wealthy and somewhat stylish, but her apartment is not. Accented with improbable furnishings and migraine-inducing abstract, pastel wall hangings, it felt like the play was set in the 1980s rather than its intended very recent past. And while some costuming elements felt correct, others were altogether too casual and uninspired.

 

Minor road bumps aside, Donkey Punch is a well-written, well-acted examination of the friendship of two women and their beginning to come to terms with who they really are. Whether they continue to grow and transition remains to be seen. After spending an amusing and sometimes wrenching evening with them, one sure hopes so.

 

Donkey Punch. Through August 31 at the SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam Street, between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street). www.IvyTheatre.com

 

 

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