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A CurtainUp Review
The Surrender
By Joyce Friedland

"I once loved a man so much that I no longer existed— all Him, no Me. Now I love myself just enough that no man exists— all Me, no Them. "
Laura Campbell (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
Where I come from, no one talks openly about anal sex. And if the subject should come up, it is in language so vague that the topic of discussion is lost in a sea of obfuscation. And then along comes Toni Bentley, a former Balanchine dancer, who writes a steamy, memoir describing a four-year love affair in which she became obsessed with anal sex and what she claims were its transformative powers. Her one-woman play, The Surrender, which opened at the Clurman Theater, is based entirely on that memoir.

In preparing for the staged version of the book, Bentley worked with the actress Isobel Stoffel, who originated the role in Madrid and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Due to its successes in these two cities, the play has been brought to New York with the actress Laura Campbell playing "the woman."

As Toni Bentley's onstage alter ego, Campbell appears in a long black negligee with a slit up the front that reveals black mesh stockings and a lace-up corselette. With absolute candor, facing the audience at all times, she begins a monologue that is her sexual history.

From the age of puberty, through adolescence and then on to young adulthood, her sex life is conventional and also pushes the limits of convention. She has many lovers, but complains that the men she is with require that their desires trump hers, leaving her perpetually unsatisfied. That is, until she submits to anal sex with a man whose name she never reveals.

Acording to Campbell/Bentley this affair is a life-changing experience. She becomes totally obsessed with this man and their sexual forays and convinces herself that she is experiencing love of a new sort: a physical love that is more potent than emotional love. This obsessive affair endures for several years until Mr. X dumps her in favor of a more conventional liaison. Nevertheless our protagonist claims that the experience allowed her to become more sensitive to her own desires and gain greater self-confidence and emotional independence.

Although it was sometimes difficult to listen to long speeches describing her sexual endeavors in minute detail, Campbell, as expertly directed by Zishan Ugurlu, manages to pull off her role in a way that's just short of being pornographic and thereby was very exciting. At times she's campy, and at other times almost pedagogical. But even if the subject matter makes you squirm, you won't be bored.

Set designer Edward T. Morris uses only a few pieces of furniture to create the insular boudoir where eroticism reigned. The chaise lounge and the dressing table and mirror are all that were needed to imagine the whole room and its ambiance.

This is a very difficult play to recommend to others. If you can deal with the subject matter, you will find The Surrender refreshing and even humorous at times. If sodomy is not your cup of theater, you should probably stay away.

Director: Zishan Ugurlu
Cast: Laura Campbell (The Woman)
Set Design: Edward T. Morris
Lighting Design: Masha Tsimring
Sound Design: Palmer Hefferan
Stage Manager: Benjamin D. Rush
Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission
The Carol Tambor Theatrical Foundation at Clurman Theatre 410 West 42nd Street 212-239-6200
From 1/08/14; opening 1/15/14; closing 2/02/14.
Tuesday at 7 PM; Wednesday to Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM and 8 PM; Sunday at 3 PM.
Tickets are $45
Reviewed by Joyce Friedland at January 12th press performance
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