Of all the real-world manifestations of spanking, Christian Domestic Discipline is the one that really makes my blood run cold, thanks to its assumption of male supremacy underpinned by a crudely fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. But it is the subject of Permission, the new comedy that premieres at the Lucille Lorter Theatre, New York, tonight – and if you want to see a play with a lot of spanking, that’s where you need to be.
The playwright, Robert Askins (born 1980), grew up in a Christian environment in Texas, and his work has been described as ‘faith-based’ – but it’s also unconventional and a little edgy. Permission is produced on the back of a previous success, Hand to God, a comedy about a glove puppet possessed by the devil – and no, Askins doesn’t treat the theme as merely ludicrous. Likewise, CDD, which must strike liberal New York audiences as either a crackpot form of social conservatism or a hypocritical justification for sadomasochism, gets a fair but not uncritical run in Permission, an everyday story of whacking wackos in Waco.
Askins wrote the play in July 2013 at SPACE, the program at Ryder Farm in Brewster, New York, which offers artists residency to concentrate on developing and workshopping their projects. He worked with a director and five actors, some of whom were presumably spanked. The play then got a late-night public tryout on September 5 at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, New York, with a cast comprising Brad Anderson, Stephen Stout, Layla Khoshnoudi, Katherine Folk-Sullivan and Teddi Millan – some of whom were certainly spanked.
It was then selected from 500 entries to be showcased at the 2014 New Works Festival at the Ojai Playwrights Conference in California. The cast is unknown, but as it was only a reading, presumably none of them were spanked. And now it has got its first professional production, Off-Broadway; the official opening is tonight, following the usual three weeks of previews from April 29.
So who’s going to be spanked? The first publicity image to be issued is slightly misleading in that respect:
CDD may indeed be for dummies, but one thing we can say for sure is that the production does not in any way feature the Finnish photographer Vika Valter, who graces the faked book cover with her fine photo and her fine form!
The sorest bottom of the evening will belong to Cindy, a thirty-something wife who’s between jobs, slightly depressed and in love with her underachiever husband Eric but not with her life. They are both looking for some direction in their marriage, when Eric’s friend Zach reveals that he and his wife Michelle are practitioners of Christian Domestic Discipline. Maybe Eric should give it a try?
In the current production, Eric is played by Justin Bartha and Cindy by Elizabeth Reaser, who’s best known for her role as a waitress in Mad Men. Here she is:
Eric sees the mess Cindy’s in, neglecting her household chores and her ambition to write a novel and instead lazing around drinking wine. Clearly she deserves a spanking. And so…
Cindy may look puzzled and bemused there, but as the play goes on she is spanked and spanked and spanked again, with hand, hairbrush and belt, and as you can see, it does eventually make an impression:
The marriage is turned upside down, but it seems to work for them…
But Eric and Cindy aren’t the only spanking couple in the play. Zach is played by Lucas Near-Verbrugghe and Michelle by Nicole Lowrance. Here she is:
Zach isn’t as smart as Eric, but things seem to work out for him. But his problem is that he’s also not as smart as Michelle. She’s a feisty one, as seen in this rehearsal shot of her about to do violence to Eric:
Even Zach doesn’t escape:
And when a CDD wife tries putting her hands round her husband’s neck, there can only be one outcome:
The awkwardness of the OTK posing may be meaningful. Michelle is spanked in the play, but it’s nowhere near as effective as it was on Cindy, because of the root problems in the marriage: Michelle is in charge even when she’s not in charge, and that opens up the play’s analysis of the power dynamics within CDD.
And that’s not all. A third character gets spanked too. And since the play is a five-hander, I’m hoping it will be Gennie, Eric’s office assistant, played by Talene Monahon:
But for that we’ll have to wait and see…
Most of the spankings are done fully clothed, but even when we don’t actually get to see the girls’ panties, we do know what they’re wearing. Here’s costume designer Paloma Young showing off a pair:
Obviously in this age of health and safety you can’t reasonably ask an actress to be spanked hard and often in a show that runs eight times a week without offering her some protection, so for Permission it’s reinforced panties all round. Nicole Lowrance posted an Instagram selfie of her ‘derriere padding’:
Elizabeth Reaser modeled hers:
And here she is rehearsing in them with fight director J. David Brimmer:
Paloma’s problem was to supply panties that would diffuse the sting of the spanking but still make an authentic sound under the smacking palm (and hairbrush, and belt…). And that meant she had to do some road-testing – so she got herself spanked by the set designer, David Hyman. Several spankings later, she found the right brand…
But there is also one scene where Cindy is spanked, twice, without padding – and we know what that must mean. ‘Funnily enough, it’s not that bad,’ Elizabeth Reaser told the press. ‘If I wasn’t onstage in the middle of that scene, it would really hurt.’ Doctor Theater cures all ills – including sore bottoms!
Permission was a success even before it opened: it was granted a week’s extension to its run, so it is now scheduled to close on June 14. For more information and to buy tickets, please pay an online visit to the show’s production company, MCC Theater.