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The perils of being gay in today’s Russia are luridly examined in a new drama based on real events. 

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Brendan Daugherty and John DeMino in a scene from Frank J. Avella’s “Lured” (Photo credit: Ashley Garrett)

[avatar user=”Joel Benjamin” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Joel Benjamin, Critic[/avatar]Playwright/co-director Frank J. Avella’s Lured at the Theater for the New City practices a bit of theatrical legerdemain.  Ostensibly about the perils of being gay in today’s Russia, Avella takes an unexpected turn into revenge melodrama that almost defeats his main political/social theme.  Considering that Lured is based on real events, at the very least he dulls the important political and social points he is making by having the victims and perpetrators behave equally abhorrently.

In a dirty, shabby room in 2014 St. Petersburg, Russia (fine set design by Steven Medina), three characters tensely pace and make plans:  darkly handsome Valentin (Marc Lombardo, effectively passionate); tall and bookish Yuri (David Joseph Volino, whose eyes say everything) and Zhanna (Carlotta Brentan—also co-director of Lured—frighteningly cold-hearted until the end).

They have lured Sergei (Kalen J. Hall, who uses his muscular build to great effect, particularly when humiliated) via a cell phone app to a sexual tryst with Valentin whose gun speaks louder than his rhetoric or genitalia.

What follows is hard to take:  The sadistic treatment of Sergei, including spouting of “official” Russian anti-gay propaganda, brutal beatings, nudity and humiliating sexual acts all recorded by cell phone-wielding Zhanna.  At the end of the scene they await the arrival of another victim.

Brendan Daugherty, Cali Gilman, John DeMino and Kalen J. Hall in a scene from Frank J. Avella’s “Lured” (Photo credit: Ashley Garrett)

Scene Two which happened three weeks before scene one is an ironic mirror image of the first with just a change of characters.  Again a small group of vigilantes, led by a tarted up Tatiana, complete with glitzy tiara (Cali Gilman whose expression of her passion for degrading is frightening), gather for the kill, this time victimizing yet another young man, Dmitry (John DiMino, wide-eyed and easy to empathize with) seeking furtive gay sex.

Her cohorts are Sergei from the first scene who turns out to be Tatiana’s beau and pretty boy Evgeny (Brendan Daugherty, playing his role well), as the gay sex object in it for the money.  Dmitry gets the same sadistic treatment that Sergei received, but things get out of hand when Dmitry resists and is beaten and sexually abused unmercifully by Sergei under Tatiana’s encouragement.  All of this is videoed by Evgeny who demands more money for the added violence.

Scene Three brings everything into focus when Tatiana arrives, this time dressed far more demurely. She is called to answer for what happened to Dmitry who turns out to be Zhanna’s brother and Valentin’s lover.

In her defense Tatiana continues to spout the anti-gay party line, refusing to back down from her stance of freeing Mother Russia from the plague of deviancy, pederasty and child molesters, even though her quest also lined her pockets and caused humiliation and death.

Cali Gilman and Carlotta Brentan in a scene from Frank J. Avella’s “Lured” (Photo credit: Ashley Garrett)

However emotionally satisfying it may be for revenge to be served broiling hot, Avella demeans his subject matter by having the victims behave as abhorrently as the disgustingly venal and hypocritical criminals they are punishing.  No one takes the moral high ground here, though, to a New York City audience, at least, the sympathies lie totally with the retaliators.

Avella appears to have all the quotidian details down cold, his research paying off to give Lured the patina of truth (helped by Victoria Ratermanis’ costumes).  He and his co-director kept the energy flowing and the volume at high from beginning to end.

David Shocket’s lighting design and Mike Ekelburg’s sound design enhance the dreary mood.  Last, but not least, Randall Rodriguez’ fight choreography is almost too realistic.

Lured (through November 25, 2018)

Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 973-715-2356 or visit

Running time:  80 minutes without an intermission                                                                          i

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About Joel Benjamin (561 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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