By: Sam Affoumado
November 10, 2018: Lured, written by Frank J. Avella and co-directed by Carlotta Brentan, is a drama that outlines the brutalization and dehumanization of gays perpetrated by Russian vigilante groups. Against the backdrop of Russia’s federal law banning distribution of materials promoting LGBTQ relationships among minors (anti-Gay Propaganda Law), hatred and violence carried out against the LGBTQ community is on the rise. Vigilante groups, bolstered by Putin’s position and the beliefs of the Russian Orthodox Church, try to validate the idea that homosexuals corrupt minors thereby equating “homosexuality” and “pedophilia.” And who would not want to punish pedophiles?
In a dingy, St. Petersburg apartment, three characters, Valentin (Marc Lombardo), Yuri (David Joseph Volino) and Zhanna (Carlotta Brentan) await the arrival of Sergei (Kalen J. Hall). We believe that Valentin and his vigilante thugs are there to entrap, taunt and torture a gay man. Subsequently, we find out that they are there to exact their revenge and turn the tables on the group known as Occupy Pedophilia, the real network of vigilantes who themselves tortured and ultimately murdered Dimitri (John Dimino), Zhanna’s brother.
In a flashback scene, we actually witness the humiliation and torture of Dmitri. Evgeny (Brendan Daugherty) is the beautiful bait who initially lures Dmitry and records the torture to post on social media. Tatiana (Cali Gilman), the leader of the St. Petersburg chapter of Occupy Pedophilia calls the shots and executes the verbal abuse while directing Sergei to unleash his inner animal to punish the gay captive.
Lured is based on real events and Mr. Avella’s play focuses a myopic lens on the entrapment, humiliation and torture of human beings. The spectacle of such cruelty and inhumanity is disturbing enough for any audience to witness. The subject matter is certainly horrific and Kudos to Mr. Avella for being brave enough to bring it to the stage. However, most of the characters are representative either as perpetrators or victims. Though some of the perpetrators (vigilante and revenge- seekers) have moments of empathy for their captives, their personas need to be more fully realized. The character of Tatiana, the leader of Occupy Pedophilia, is the one exception. She does display a real conviction for why she does what she does. “Your kind is the reason Russia is in decline. You are the reason most decent people cannot afford to live and are starving. And the church tells us you are immoral and wish to brainwash our children.” Does that conviction sound familiar?
Despite its flaws, Lured is a play that packs a wallop and renders the audience emotionally spent. A more fully realized script with more fully developed characters might turn our outrage into a call for action. Though the persecution of gays is horrific in Russia, let us not forget what is happening in our own backyard. If you repeat something (lies) long enough, sooner or later the lies will be perceived as truth.
The current climate in the U.S. has spawned the rise of violent hate groups committing heinous crimes against those they see as “the other.” Lured is a play worth seeing if only to warn us of what can happen anywhere if we are complacent.
Lured features lighting design by David Shocket, costume design by Victoria Ratermanis and fight choreography by Randall Rodriguez. The production Stage Manager is Emily Rose White. Dialect coach is Dayle Towarnicky.
Lured – at the Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, NYC. Thurs., Nov. 8th thru Sun., Nov. 25th, Thurs., Fri., Sat. at 8pm and Sun. at 3pm. With added performances on Sat., Nov.10th at 3pm and Mon., November 19th at 8pm. Tickets are $18 for all performances and are available by calling SmartTix at 212-868- 4444, online at https://www.smarttix.com/Event/lur5E6, or in person at the theater prior to each performance. Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission.
Photography: Shushu Chen