When I go to a play festival I know it will either be very good or very bad. When I see a new work I know it will either be quite breathtakingly wonderful or quite breathtakingly awful to the point where I need an inhaler. When seeing a play where there is a theme of BDSM it can either be painfully awesome or it can just plain hurt. Pretty Little Mouth, written and directed by Marcus Yi is breathtakingly wonderful and painfully awesome as well as original, daring, and has quality that transcends the blackbox theatre it played in.
At the beginning of the play Marcus Yi, the director, originally from Singapore that is a lawyer by day and playwright by night, announces that “all cellphones must be turned off or there will be real dominitrixes that will come off the stage and spank you.” This exudes a laugh from the audience, a healthy start to the risqué show. As the show begins, ensemble girls do dance numbers in leather with whips. Immediately as an audience member one gets the sense the show will be a wild ride and it is not for the faint hearted. And no, Pretty Little Mouth certainly is not.
The show begins with Emily, a stately African American woman who looks more like a sculpture in her red dress and heals with proper Mid-Atlantic Speech rather than a former dominitrix. At the beginning of the play, she is sitting in her red dress getting ready to teach a flute lesson to a pupil she describes as a “spoiled kid” as she speaks to a former friend of hers from her dungeon days. Tiffany Terrell, in playing Emily, gives the character a sophistication but also does well in layering her with an undercurrent of a past she wants to forget as she lives in a present where her husband is running for mayor and she is more desperate housewife than dungeon mistress. A mixture of simplicity and depth, it is clear this actress can play any role and in many ways is reminiscent of Meryl Streep in her early days. This mixture of simplicity and depth is seen as soon as this woman, in her red gown, lights a joint. Within minutes her flute student is knocking at the door. She puts out the joint and begins spraying air freshener, an old college trick.
Enter Brian Knoebel playing the role of John. At first he is an impish student, forced to take flute because his parents believe it will bolster his college application. Less inclined to attend lessons because he is serious about music and more inclined to go to the home of Emily because he has a school boy crush on her, this is apparent when he flubs the piece he is supposed to have been practicing for three months. At first this character is likeable and seems innocent. However within minutes we see John is conniving and evil. He tells his teacher he doesn’t want to play flute but wants to continue seeing her. That’s when John confesses to having a joint in his pocket. Emily, the adult on the surface, tells him to hand him the joint. That is when John resorts to blackmail explaining that he has found out about Emily’s past working in the dungeon while repairing her computer, and is willing to expose her past unless she gives him what he wants. John wants a night with his gorgeous, statuesque teacher. Emily agrees, only on the condition that John give her the hard drive with all of her old advertisements from her domming days.
At this point Pretty Little Mouth has proven that it is interesting. However, there is still the crucial question. Will it sink or will it swim? Well it proves that it swims. Emily comes to the home of her pupil John when his parents are not home in order to commit the forbidden act that could get her sent to jail if caught as well as ruin the reputation of her husband. Ever the fifteen year old, pimple faced dork with a dream he has a room adorned with Star Wars memorabilia including a Yoda Piggy Bank. In an effort to make his conquest feel welcome, John gives her Kool-Aid, the tactic of perhaps Vili Fualaau used to seduce Mary Kay Letourneau. Needless to say Emily is disgusted. John attempts to turn on music, which Emily tells him is “noise.” That’s when he claps his hands and John turns off the lights. In an awkward minute and a half, which sums up the first sexual encounter or an adolescent male, John turns the lights on. He turns off his manipulative side and seems concerned about the welfare of Emily, who demands the disks. However John has another trick up his sleeve. He reveals that there is a camera in the Yoda Piggy Bank that captured their whole tryst, and Emily is to become his sex slave or else he will expose this as well as her past of working in the world of BDSM.
|(L: Brian Knoebel (John) reveals to R: Tiffany Terrell (Emily) that their tryst is not over anytime soon).|
As the leather clad cuties grace the stage we wonder what is next. At this point Pretty Little Mouth could drag but it does the opposite. Now we are intrigued as we see Emily in her blue bathrobe and hear a knock on the door. It is Danielle Ma in the role of Jalene. Unlike her put together friend from college who married rich, Jalene is still entrenched in the BDSM world and has been dating a drug dealer that she has stolen from. As Jalene, Danielle Ma gives her a mix of whackiness, sexiness, and outright likeability. High off of a crystal meth binge, Jalene admits her boyfriend gave her a black eye and she stole out of retaliation. Emily tries to get a word in edgewise but Jalene is in her “Earth Mother” alter ego, ruling the dungeon with an iron fist. Finally, after making drinks the two UT sisters begin to talk about Emily’s problems. At this point Emily has hit rock bottom. Her husband was not working late on a campaign for mayor, but rather having an affair with his barely legal secretary. Jalene, who believes Emily has the perfect life, dismisses her problems. That is when Emily confides in her about John blackmailing her about her past profession. Jalene then asks Emily why she stopped working in the dungeon. Emily replies she enjoyed the pain she gave to men too much. That is when Jalene suggests that Emily brings John to the brink not enough to kill him, but perhaps give him a good scare.
The climax of Pretty Little Mouth is when John enters. This is where Marcus Yi’s masterful writing comes in. Despite the fact he is a conniving and manipulative geek, John has also developed feelings for his flute teacher turned sex slave and says he desires to marry her and take care of her. He has even planned a future for the two in California. But Emily has other plans for him. She tells John she loves him and wants to experiment with him. That is when she reveals the four way restraints. John puts them on and begins to get nervous. Emily enters adorned in the leather outfit from her domming days along with a whip that she periodically cracks. John goes from the one who has the upper hand to a sniveling, scared pile of mess. In this turn of events, the sex slave has now become the master. While I choose not to reveal the ending, this part of the show is the perfect ending to a perfect tale where there is no dull moment.
While the acting was excellent, and there was no weak link, the true credit belongs to Marcus Yi. As a director he knows well how to place everyone based on their strengths and what they bring to the piece. A masterful writer who combines suspense, wit, and intrigue that is both entertaining and deep, he exposes that all is not as it seems in a place where everyone rides their bikes in front of houses with white picket fences. He rips down the dirty curtains and gently probes the inner dungeon master or deviant in all of us.
Pretty Little Mouth is a must see. See it now before it is sold out on Broadway, or before it hits the big screen.
|(Tiffany Terrell (Emily) in the back as Brian Knoebel in the front (John) in the climax aka the turning of the screw, no pun intended).|