Can a sweet, curvy, young professional woman find success, love and happiness in the big city? Sex on Sunday, running through this weekend in Trustus Theatre’s intimate Side Door space, seeks to answer that question, adding a kinky twist: protagonist Leila (Devin Anderson) is a professional dominatrix, her heart of gold contrasting with her wardrobe of studded leather.
At 80 minutes, and presented without intermission, Chisa Hutchinson’s script doesn’t try to solve world problems or make any definitive societal statements, instead touching on aspects of modern romance. The implicit trust between Laila and her submissive clients (Josh Kern and Jon Whit McClinton) is a metaphor for the trust required for all relationships, while their need for domination suggests a subconscious desire to relinquish their roles as alpha males in the realms of business as well as love. And while there’s a clear endorsement of traditional love and commitment, the author, speaking through the sensible Stacey — a Vassar grad like Hutchinson, and played with sincerity by Felicia Myers — hints that experimentation in the bedroom never hurts.
Director Eric Bultman elicited extreme naturalism from his actors on opening night last weekend, crucial for the close quarters of the 50-seat Side Door venue. And while Anderson alternately teases, torments and denigrates her willing “subs,” her best moments came from troubled expressions that silently revealed her character’s emotional turmoil.
Kern gave a three-dimensional performance as Kessler, a customer who wants more than just a business transaction, while Myers, Arischa Frierson and Mahogany Collins rounded out the cast as Leila’s bantering gal pals who conclude that Leila is some kind of “power broker” — which of course she is. Frierson’s character is intended to be over the top and unlikable, but at times I felt that the actress’s performance was too broad for the tiny performance space. Still, she got some huge laughs, and her final 10 seconds on stage created perhaps the play’s most rewarding moment.
Curtis Smoak’s set design made optimal use of the available space, and included a full-scale, working wooden torture wheel on which Kern was spun around. I especially enjoyed the tiny ways in which scene changes were accomplished, including a revolving panel that defined different locations via wall decorations, and a sofa and coffee table that quickly converted into a bed.
The script establishes all of the characters save for Kessler as African-American, and while there are a couple of references to shared cultural experiences, and a brief discussion among the ladies about interracial dating, the story is about relationships, not race. Nevertheless, it’s always nice to see opportunities for actors of color to shine in multi-faceted roles. The R-rated subject matter notwithstanding, Hutchinson’s story played out as a fairly straightforward romantic comedy, with the charisma and magnetism of the leads responsible for as much or more of its appeal as any dramatic or thematic depth.
In short, Sex on Sunday is a nice destination for date-night that allows plenty of time for dinner and drinks before or after.
What: Sex on Sunday
Where: Trustus Theatre, 520 Lady St.
When: Through July 15
Price: 803-254-9732 x 1, trustus.org