The Battle of the Sexes: Fixed: Donkey Punch

08/13/2014 4:00 AM |

Donkey Punch
Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street

Can a woman have sex without strings? Men do it all the time. But can women? This is the thorny question posed by Micheline Auger’s Donkey Punch, which was done earlier this year under the title The Feminism of a Soft Merlot (Or, How The Donkey Got Punched). That earlier, wordy, almost Lina Wertmuller-ish title is a clue to the issues of the play, which is basically a comedy with dark undertones. Kareena (Cleo Gray) is a swaggering party girl who looks great and makes great money and has a devoted boyfriend, Teddy (Micheal Drew), at her beck and call. Her close friend Sam (Lauren Dortch-Crozier) is a self-described prude who is still getting over the death of her own devoted boyfriend when Kareena sets her up with Kyle (Jon McCormick), a guy who makes softcore horror porn. An ardent feminist, Sam is offended at first by Kyle’s choice of profession and the film he is working on, which is called Donkey Punch, a term for a particularly degrading sexual act perpetrated against a woman. But Kyle manages to charm Sam, which is handled in a point-by-point, believable fashion. And then Sam starts to make drastic changes to herself, dyeing her hair bleach blond, getting breast implants, and making herself over into a sexpot for Kyle. Kareena watches all of this very uneasily, and when Sam and Kyle come over for a dinner party, all hell breaks loose between the two couples.

It’s to the credit of the actors that the events in the play attain just the right modicum of plausibility. It’s easy to wonder, at first, just why Dortch-Crozier is wearing such an absurdly unflattering frizzy wig, but once she comes out with what looks like her own hair dyed blond, everything falls into place. Even at its most outlandish, this is a play that rests on the foundation of a very convincingly written friendship between Kareena and Sam. It’s clear that Kareena likes the difference she feels between herself and Sam, and so when Sam starts to make her metamorphosis, it makes sense that Kareena would be rocked back on her heels and start to question her own persona.

Gray gives an extremely dynamic, carefully layered performance as this seemingly alpha girl who is actually hiding self-loathing under her sexy veneer of authority. In the scene where Kyle seduces Kareena, there’s an unresolvable push and pull between her own need for power and her sense of radical powerlessness underneath. What this play is dramatizing is the unequal playing field in the battle of the sexes, and it does so in a way that leaves no easy answers. The production isn’t perfect. The scene changes with music last for far too long, and perhaps Sam’s transformation might have been written in a more subtle way. No matter. Donkey Punch is absorbing and very well acted, and it leaves you with just the right sense of doubt and measured hope.