Where have all the libertines gone? The perversions of the Marquis de Sade and the sexual predations of Valmont and Merteuil seem so ancien régime today. But just when the term was poised to fade away, along comes Toni Bentley to force it out of retirement. “It is necessarily through pain that pleasure may be gained,” de Sade wrote. In Bentley’s The Surrender, based on her erotic memoir, this former Balanchine dancer couldn’t agree more.
Don’t be put off, however, by rumors of Edinburgh audiences fleeing scenes of sodomy. As erotica goes, The Surrender‘s New York premiere is a prudish and clumsy bore. Director Zishan Ugurlu stumbles all over the production, making one incomprehensible choice after another — though she is not helped much by Bentley’s story of lust at the gym or her glibly profane, pseudo-mystical descriptions of her orgasms.
Irish actress Laura Campbell’s voluptuous curves are kept primly under wraps, and she spends more of the play cataloguing her “ass-fucks” on legal pads than showing her apparatus. To paraphrase one of Bentley’s puns, the show hits bottom when Campbell launches into an Anatomy 101 lecture on the workings of the anal sphincter with visual aids she finds behind her dressing-table mirror. In libertinism as in polo, the nobles do it better.