Tuesday, September 13, 2016

LURED: Disturbing New Play Examines Proliferation of Anti-Gay Violence in Russia


It has been widely reported that the Russian parliament, with the enthusiastic support of President Vladimir Putin, has taken a strong stance against gay rights. But what has not been as well examined is the virulent riptide of anti-gay violence and public humiliation of LGBT individuals to which the police and officials have pretty much turned a blind eye in the wake of the Government’s position. 

A particularly vicious hate group is one that calls itself Occupy Pedophilia, an organization founded by one of Russia’s better-known neo-Nazi activists. Claiming to protect youth from "predatory assaults" by homosexuals, Occupy Pedophilia’s modus operandi has been to use social media to arrange for “trysts” with gay individuals, and then to violently attack them. As an added touch, they make digital recordings of their attacks, clearly identify the victims, and post the recordings on a popular website. 

The story of one such assault is depicted in Frank J. Avella’s Lured, a short (under an hour) play that is having a brief run at Theater for a New City as part of the 2016 Dream Up Festival. 

It is, in a word, harrowing.

The play unfolds in three scenes. The first two seem almost identical, with one pretty much a variation on the other. In both instances, we are asked to bear witness to a series of violent acts in which only the personnel change. There is little more to these first two scenes than this, so that you may feel you basically are watching one of Occupy Pedophilia’s videos.

It is not until the third scene that you gain a fuller understanding of what has been going on. Lured changes instantly from an enactment of heinous crimes into a far richer play that will leave you feeling both horrified and terribly sad. And, if truth be told, you may shockingly discover within yourself a sense of satisfaction when you grasp that one of the earlier scenes represents an act of revenge on behalf of one of the victims.   

This is the play’s hidden strength, and what makes it a stand-out even with its minimal production values. What unfolds before you is one of those endless cycles of assault-and-vengeance that plague the world. Who can mediate or intervene to end it? 

Most of the characters are representative types rather than fully fleshed-out individuals, but there is one key presence that stands out. That would be Tatiana (Cali Gilman), a leader in the anti-gay movement who truly believes, as she puts it, that “Homosexuals are psychologically unstable animals that dwell in debauchery and bring damnation on us all.” For her, assaulting gays and exposing their “crimes” to public scrutiny is nothing less than a crusade. That she has picked up some of her beliefs from an “American Evangelical Conference in Florida, United States on YouTube” provides a telling irony to the proceedings.

The story depicted in Lured is one that ought to be more widely known. For now, only Tatiana has been developed to any extent. But the play could be expanded to turn the others into characters whose fates would matter to us, not just as nameless victims and perpetrators, but as real humans. That would make a far more dramatic statement and reshape the play from a cry of outrage to an eye-opening call for action.    

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.  

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