Tanya Marten’s 2008 stage play Euphoric Tendencies bills itself as an erotic romantic comedy, but it is also a play with a serious point to make about inhibition and self-fulfillment. It’s not so much a mainstream theatrical work as an instance of kink talking to mainstream on the basis that they are both part of the world: a play about kink, written by one who knows, and written for anyone who cares to find out.
The play started out as a staged reading in Chicago. Another reading followed in New York in 2007, and then a fully staged version played in March 2008 for three weeks and twelve performances at the Access Theater on Broadway (or technically, Off-Off-Broadway). Plans for a film version spent years in development hell and have never come to anything (yet).
The story centers on mousy Beth Moss, played by Katherine Barron. In reality, she’s not in the least mousy,
but in Euphoric Tendencies she plays a frustrated writer who works in an alternative bookstore as she struggles to write the Great American Novel, distracted by her noisy roommate (Carol Padiernos), encouraged by her boring boyfriend, Kevin Murphy (Gary Mink) and inhibited by the feeling that she has absolutely nothing to say. As the play begins, she seems to be dominated by the tyranny of the ‘normal’: she assumes that most people, who know where they’re going, must also know where she should be going too. Or, as is said of her later, she ‘thinks she’s vanilla’.
At work she encounters the well-traveled, free-and-easy Mina, played by the author herself, Tanya Marten.
And when the noisy roommate moves out without notice, it happens to be at a moment when Mina finds herself in need of a place to live. The symmetry of the situation asserts itself, though Beth is disturbed to discover a collection of whips among the possessions Mina has brought with her.
One evening, Mina goes out to a club while Beth tries to work at her literary endeavors. It’s no ordinary nightclub, because what happens there includes
an awful lot of spanking!
As all of that is going on, the other side of the stage shows Beth’s mundane evening in her apartment. Mina returns to find her caught in the horrors of writer’s block, impotently jumping up and down on her manuscript.
Beth turns the conversation to the whips:
BETH: Are you, like, into pain?
MINA: Oh no, no, no, I like pleasure: lots of it, in all its various incarnations.
MINA: Yeah, I have euphoric tendencies, what can I say?
And she sets about opening Beth’s mind to a similar euphoria, starting by giving her Anne Rice’s The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty to read.
It emerges that Mina returned from her travels to see her lover, artist Jake Rubin (Jonathan Marten, who also directed the play), but ended up not calling him and sleeping with his best friend instead. She admits this when she eventually encounters Jake, and he takes it more or less in his stride:
JAKE: I know all your faults, and how to fix them.
(He advances on her)
MINA: Oh no… (Giggles)
(He kisses her.)
MINA: Now that is not what I thought you had in mind.
(He smacks her bottom.)
JAKE: Yeah, well, I’m saving that for later.
As the play unfolds, it emerges that almost everyone around Beth is sexually unconventional. There is a lot of chatter about goings-on at a spanking party, and we hear a conversation between two lesbians, one of whom dislikes being spanked with a hairbrush, but has been by her girlriend, twice. Beth also discovers that a Google search for spanking throws up 17,300,000 sites. It all seems to bother her.
Finally, she arrives home to find Mina watching McLintock! (‘John Wayne movies have some really great spankings in them’), and is amazed that Mina bought a DVD just for ‘two minutes of spanking’. But her emergent curiosity finally makes it into her mouth:
BETH: What’s it like?
MINA: What, spanking?
MINA: I thought you’d never ask. Let me show you.
(Mina gets up and advances on Beth.)
BETH: That’s OK, just tell me about it.
MINA (sitting back down): No, no, no, no, no, some things just have to be experienced to be understood. So come over here and lay across my lap.
BETH: I couldn’t.
MINA: Oh, sure you could. Pretend I’m giving you a backrub.
BETH: I don’t know.
MINA: Oh, come on, you asked, I’m just helping you out here. I will be very nice, I promise.
BETH: I feel really stupid.
MINA: Oh, that’s OK, you can laugh your way through the whole thing.
The demonstration proceeds from skirt
What most shocks Beth is the suggestion that being spanked might give her an orgasm: she starts to get up… then decides it would be welcome, and lays back down again.
But to her obvious disappointment, Mina says that’s enough for her first time and returns her skirt to its previous position.
This was a sequence the audience found hilarious, with the second biggest laugh coming at the moment when Beth’s pink panties are first exposed. Part of the humor lay in how Katherine Barron played her reaction, but part too in the fact that she turns out to be wearing Bridget Jones-style ‘granny panties’, somehow both character-appropriate and, to younger eyes, ridiculous. Being pink, they were also fittingly girly, though the actress may have worn other colors in other performances; she wore black in the posed production photographs, which was perhaps less apropos.
Well, that was the second biggest laugh. The biggest, of course, came when Beth changed her mind about the prospect of being spanked to orgasm.
And so Beth is hooked! She develops an obsession with bottoms, but also tries hard to understand what is happening to her. Mina tells her she is overanalyzing it: ‘You are being a brat and you are begging for a spanking.’ Which of course is what she gets:
Meanwhile boyfriend Kevin finds it all very disturbing and warns Beth not to allow her peculiar roommate to spank her if she forgets to take out the trash. Eventually the relationship falters when he can’t handle her new, sexually liberated self. But in a man-to-man conversation, Jake has a bit of advice for him: what he should do is… spank her!
One indication of the new Beth is her willingess to be recruited by Jake as a photographic model (‘clothing optional’), though he does promise that her face will not be visible, and she does exercise the option, even though the clothing in question is fetish gear.
Once the pictures are shot, Jake includes them in an exhibition, and Kevin is invited to the opening. By now Beth has really let her hair down (including literally), and Kevin makes a point of showing that he has gotten over his aversion to her newfound sexual tastes:
KEVIN: Are you bratting me?
BETH: Would I do that?
KEVIN: Keep it up; I’ll put you over my knee right here.
BETH: You would not.
KEVIN: Want to test me?
And with that they head off to her apartment with a smack on her bottom as they exit.
Now the comedy takes an embarrassing turn. Beth has been keeping an intimate journal of her erotic awakening. She gives it to Mina to read, and Mina shows it to Alex, the bookstore owner. Alex mistakes it for a work of fiction written by Mina, and by a misunderstanding it ends up slated for publication. Needless to say, this ruins the relationship between Mina and Beth, to Mina’s bitter regret:
MINA: I really screwed up. What do I do?
JAKE: You go home, you get spanked – hard.
Beth becomes less unhappy about it when she encounters one of the publisher’s readers, Sam (Bella Vendramini), a young woman who declares that the book changed her life. (In her 2011 memoir, Naked in Public, Bella Vendramini describes her character as ‘a secretary with spanking tendencies’, though this is not explicitly stated in the script.) So the book ends up getting published as fiction, even though the author’s intimates know it to be fact. This proves terminal for the relationship with Kevin: spanking is one thing, but he just can’t handle the revelation that Beth is bisexual. Never mind: Beth has been true to herself.
Mina has gotten over her remorse, and the effects of the hard offstage spanking she got from Jake have evidently worn off sufficiently by New Year’s Eve for her to count down to midnight in spanking fashion:
That’s Aurora, played by Nicole Godino, a minor character in the play but a major part of the show: she was also the production manager.
Beth has also gotten over her anger with Mina, and dedicates the book to her. As publication approaches, Mina is sheepish about attending the book signing, but is made to go by the masterful Jake. At the event, Mina is asked to give a demonstration of spanking, and calls for a volunteer to participate. Masterful Jake volunteers Mina, and Beth takes a straw poll.
‘This woman gave her best friend’s journal to a perfect stranger and didn’t ask permission. Would you say she deserves a spanking?’
Guess what the answer to that one is!
And so the play ends with another spanking for Mina – this time onstage!
Happily, a performance was recorded, and may be viewed here.