Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: Lured Into Terror

By Michael Block

It may be the 21st century and progress has surely been made but being a member of the LGBTQ community in every country has its own litany of struggles. Take Putin's Russia for instance. Inspired by real stories, Frank J. Avella's new play Lured is a daring tale of the aftermath of a young gay Russian man being lured for sex but instead receiving a fatally harrowing experience.
Part of Theater for the New City's Dream Up Festival, Lured is a series of three heavy-handed scenes that watch the traumatically devastating Occupy Pedophilia movement in Russia where gay people are lured into brutality for their lifestyle by people who believe the being gay goes hand in hand with sodomy and sin. But not everyone who enters comes out alive. Lured is a play that will challenge the audience on multiple levels. Between the difficult nature of the action to the reality of the situation, sitting through this comfortably is impossible. But the truth of the product is that it's not perfect. But it certainly can be! The ingredients of something spectacular are present, it's how they go into the recipe that needs to be fixed. As it stands now, Avella sets up his play by jumping time where scene one and three are the same moment and scene two is three weeks earlier. Was this scene structure the best way to serve the story? It’s up for debate. In this format, Avella is able to reveal a plot twist that correlates the two times. But the truth is that you can see it coming. So what’s more important? The big reveal or clearer storytelling? No matter what, the exposition needs to be tightened. What would a planning scene lead by Valentin look like? With the facts being what they are, why did Sergei get lured? How did this anti-LGBT group come to be? Avella has a plethora of room to explore and expand. No matter how you slice it, Lured is an important story.
Directed by Rod Kaats, fear and terror were central players in the storytelling. Lured is an intimate play and Kaats did his best to keep it that way. Unfortunately, the gigantic space was a bit of a detriment. This was play that kept the audience on edge but there were moments the stakes needed to be severely amped up, especially when it came to Tatiana in the final scene. Whether the relationship between Sergei and Tatiana was real or just a ploy, Tatiana’s fear for Sergei didn’t come off as genuine as reality would be. Kaats deeply explored Avella’s script to find the nuances within. He found the duality in the situations. But if duality and replication is essential, it needs to be consistent. There were moments in the two “lures” that were different. For example, if handcuffs are used to restrain Sergei in scene one, handcuffs should be used to restrain Dmitry in scene two. But when the parallels were present, it was gut-wrenching. The other necessity Lured desired was some sort of sound during the scene changes. Silence in the dark in this heavy play is overwhelming on the audience.
Lured is not an easy play for an actor simply due to the material. And to do it in accent? Even harder. This cast did a phenomenal job at capturing the essence of this doomed world. Each individual played an important role in the lure but it was the initial prey that had the most difficult task. As Dmitry, the fear was real in Ian Whitt’s eyes. Whitt gave a performance that broke your heart from start to finish. He found a way to play victim while maintaining any shreds of resiliency Dmitry had left. While her pleading side was lacking, Cali Gilman was simply dominating as Tatiana. Gilman is a force to be reckoned with. Even though Evgeny was a prop, Cameron August left you wanting more. We learn that Zhanna, the camera holder in scene 1 and 3 has a motive, what is it about Evgeny that makes him flip when reality sets up?
Lured is a work of fiction yet the actual factual authenticity that Frank J. Avella puts into his play is devastating. To be reminded that there is so much hate in this world can tear you up. Avella has a story that needs to be told. But this draft is not the one that will change the world. There are too many questions about structure to do so. Should Avella explore new options, he has the power to do something significant with Lured.