The Empress of Sex
The cast of the original production of The Empress of Sex
Author: Duncan Pflaster
Description: A woman in Ancient Greece, spurned in love, devotes herself to sex without love till her ex-lover tries to win her back.
First Produced: 2012
Date Added: 5/24/2012
Content Advisory: Nudity, Strong Language, Simulated Sex
Keywords: Comedy · Fantasy · Gay and Lesbian · Single Set · Characters are Mostly Young Adults · Gender and Sexuality · Feminism · Gender Identity · Sex · Literature and Writing · Philosophy · Mostly Male Characters · Large Cast Size
2 Acts, 120 Minutes
7 Females, 10 Males
NOTE: The Empress of Sex is fully protected by copyright law and is subject to royalty. All inquiries concerning production, publication, reprinting or use of this play in any form should be addressed to Rochelle at email@example.com..
Original Production Information
The Empress of Sex had its first full production at the Upstairs Theater at 45 Bleecker Street, as part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity in June 2012, produced by G$ Productions, with the following cast and credits:
Salacia: Catherine LeFrere
Portieris: Walter Brandes
Mousiki: Antonio Miniño
Agis: Eric Percival
Adriana: Erin Solér
Coriolanus: Matthew Menendez
Pistos: Glenn Quentin
Neara: Kelly Zekas
Petrus: Vincent Cooper
Pelagius: Robert Shryock
Myrrina: Lily Drexler
Theodor: Jimmy Joe McGurl
Ernestus: Imran Sheikh
Andrew: Brendon Katon-Donegal
Clio: Mary Sheridan
Euterpe: London Griffith
Thalia: Katie Braden
Ensemble dancers and musicians: Paul Notice, Natalie Neckyfarow
Director: Glory Kadigan
Assistant Director: Neal Kowalsky
Choreographer: Joe Barros
Stage Manager: Jenna Lazar
Assistant Stage Manager: Tara Steinberg
Lighting Designer: Chris Weston
Scenic Designer: Marissa Bergman
Costume Designer: Isabelle Fields
Sound Designer: Jacob Subotnick
Review by Claire Kiechel
Duncan Pflaster writes and Glory Kadigan directs in this delightful comedy, The Empress of Sex, part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. The play follows the Empress Salacia who, after being cheated on by her lover, Agis, sets up her own utopia on a deserted island where pleasure is paramount and love is prohibited. But the balance is soon upset after the Empress’ former lover arrives (disguised as a woman) determined to win her back. His sister Adriana (disguised as a man) and their servant, Coriolanus, accompany Agis in his adventure. All becomes more complicated when Adriana falls for the Empress’ advisor, Portieris (who finds himself falling for her cross-dressing brother), and Coriolanus falls for the court musician who must write a song about the virtues of no love.
The Empress of Sex is in many ways, Pflaster’s take on a Shakespearean comedy—Twelfth Night and As You Like It immediately come to mind. Catherine LeFrere’s melancholy Empress is a descendant of Olivia, but instead of channeling her grief into abstinence, she channels it into as much meaningless sex as possible. Portieris, her spiritual advisor, played beautifully by Walter Brandes, is an Orlando or Orsino, while Adriana (played with hilarious facial reactions by Erin Solér) is a Viola, playing the male confidante to a man with whom she is secretly in love. Pflaster expertly uses other Shakespearean conventions—a lost letter, a dumb show, and a bard—to great comedic effect.
Since it is billed as an “erotic” romantic comedy, be warned that there is a fair amount of nudity. Most everybody gets somewhat naked, and Izzy Field’s appropriately campy costumes make for easy access to both breasts and an impressive number of penises. The actors’ comfort in their bodies, however, allowed the audience to relax and laugh. It was refreshing to see so many un-self-conscious and committed performers in a strong ensemble piece. Director Glory Kadigan and choreographer Joe Barros do a superb job of making sure that the stage feels inhabited but never crowded even when 19 actors share the stage.
I especially enjoyed the scenes between the lithe and exuberant Coriolanus and his jolly musician paramour Mousiki. Matthew Menendez and Antonio Miniño should star in a sequel following their characters’ escapades around the Greece. In a group of strong performers, Kelly Zekas as the complicated maiden and Eric Percival as the repenting lover also stood out.
Toward the end of the piece, as the pair of siblings and their trusty servant prepare their own play within a play, Portieris defends their show as a satire:
Oh yes, my Empress: look, the boy plays a girl and the girl, our own Penelope, plays a boy! How jolly! Certainly none of this is meant to be taken seriously. ‘Tis but an entertaining silliness.
Yet, Pflaster clearly wants the audience to take him somewhat seriously, or least reflect on how his vision translates to contemporary terms of sexuality and love. I was surprised to find that beneath Pflaster’s raunchy words lies the heart of a moralist. For all the simulated sex acts on stage (cleverly obscured by Marissa Bergman’s sheer curtains, Christopher Weston’s smart lighting, and Field’s costumes), none of them comes off as very sexy. Pflaster argues that it is only love that makes sex satisfying, but as various characters repeat this sentiment over and over, it begins to feel didactic. The play dips its toes into emotional water, but because the characters’ pains are not fully explored, it never transcends its comedic trappings to touch us on a human scale. As an “entertaining silliness” however, it is an excellent way to spend an hour and 45 minutes. And, as an additional incentive, all performances of The Empress of Sex benefit Planned Parenthood.
reviewed at the 2012 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
Review by Clifford Lee Johnson III, Back Stage (2012)
D]on't let the overinflated language, stylized acting, and copious nudity fool you; playwright Duncan Pflaster has more in mind than mere silliness or titillation. Underneath the high jinks there is ample evidence of a canny dramatist intent on exploring the complex relationship between love and sex without sacrificing laughs or a genuinely touching payoff. Read more...
Excerpt from The Empress of Sex
AT RISE: SALACIA is on her throne, center, with PETRUS, a naked male servant, between her legs, performing cunnilingus on her. An orgy is in progress. Many naked or half-clothed CHORUS members are having various kinds of sex all around them. There may be other servants about, massaging or fanning people. MOUSIKI, a minstrel, plays music as some DANCERS dance erotically nearby.
Oh YES, Petrus, keep going! Yes, RIGHT there! Oh, OH yes!
(PORTIERIS, the majordomo of Salacia’s palace, drags in PISTOS and NEARA, two attractive young people, to see the Empress. CLIO, one of the dancers, sees Portieris enter and runs up to him.)
Portieris, I’m so glad you’re here! Come dance with us!
Not just now, Clio- I have business to attend to first.
(HE caresses her.)
But I’ll see you at supper tonight?
(CLIO kisses him deeply, and dashes back to the other dancers. PORTIERIS addresses PISTOS and NEARA.)
And now, you two- Bow to the Empress Salacia!
(PISTOS and NEARA bow, rather intimidated).
What is it, Portieris?
Your Majesty, these two supplicants have come to seek your wisdom in solving their problems.
Just a moment.
(SHE finishes her orgasm).
Oh gods! Oh gods oh yes oh gods oh gods! YES! OH! Whew.
Thank you Petrus, that was delightful.
I am always happy to serve Your Majesty.
Thank you, darling. I’ll be having a light supper in my chambers later, if you’d like to join me and a few of my other handmaidens and footmen for some private delectation.
Thank you, Your Majesty. I look forward to it.
Excellent, off you go. Mousiki: stop playing. I must hear supplication now.
(MOUSIKI stops playing his music.)
Yes, Your Majesty.
(disappointed that the music stopped) Awww!
Now pay attention, everyone! I’m sorry to interrupt your pleasures, but I must hear supplication, which may be instructive. Who are they, Portieris?
If you please, Your Majesty, I have a problem with Pistos, my good friend, here. I wish to couple with him no longer.
But why not? He’s quite handsome.
I would rather not say why. I just want him to go away. If you could arrange that I not see him anymore somehow… perhaps if we were to live on opposite sides of the island…? I don’t know. Whatever you think is best.
And Pistos? What say you to this?
I never meant to offend or hurt Neara in any way. I… I greatly respect her and want her to be happy, but I wish you will not pronounce this sentence upon me.
You never meant to offend her? And yet you did offend this pretty one, somehow?
Oh, Your Majesty, please do not question him further!
But I must know if the gentleman has given offense- did he force himself upon you? Pistos, sex is a beautiful thing, but only when given freely…
No, Your Majesty, it was nothing like that.
Then what is it, my child, which leads you now to spurn him? If you were unhappy with his style or body parts that would only be cause for a cessation of your sexual congress. But you wish to never see him more- this seems extreme.
Your Majesty, I feel we have not heard the story entire.
I think you’re right, Portieris. Some piece of the puzzle is missing. Neara, what was it Pistos did to offend you?
(nearly in tears) I cannot say! Please do not make me!
I shall say it.
Pistos, no! Do not! Please!
I am in love with Neara.
(There is a HUGE GASP from all.)
(ad lib rhubarb) No! – Not that! – Ick! - Kill him! – Tear his heart out! Etc.
I told her so yesterday. I cannot think of aught but her, my love enfolds me like a tender cloud, I walk in beaut…
ENOUGH! Pistos, you came to my island knowing full well that we do not allow that here. We do not even allow that word to be spoken. By our law, you shall be put to death, your heart cut out upon our execution block.
And still, my heart cries out, I Love!
And still you use that word without repentance. You dare to confess this sickening weakness here? To ME?!
Your Majesty, I tried to stop him, I tried to bring myself out of his sight so he would not be tempted, but he is sick with his feelings! He sent me poems and picked me flowers for my hair! He is a madman, but I do not wish him dead. I do cherish the erstwhile sex that we had as a pleasant memory. Might you commute his sentence to banishment?
The law is the law, young lady. You-know-what only causes heartbreak, and there’s already enough of that in the world.
It is a harsh law, but it is mine own. But now, I don’t know. Pistos did come here to my island, knowing the penalty for such matters- Neara is young and nubile, and certainly he might simply be confusing his natural lust now, only to regret it in later years. The gods do know how changeable amatory men can be. Pistos! What say you to this? Will you still feel this ridiculous passion for Neara when she is old? When her hair to grey has turned, when the ripened melons of her glorious breasts do sag and pendulously sway before you? Then will you still cherish her wrinkled skin and dry rosebud? If not, you shall merely be disciplined for causing this consternation with your callow, but understandable misapprehension. What say you, Pistos? Is it lust?
No, Majesty. It is love.
Take him from my sight, he cannot be reasoned with.
But I shall be merciful. Put him on a boat back to the mainland. Pistos: you are banished from my island.
Only banished; thank the gods!
(GUARDS come and drag PISTOS away)
Goodbye, my Neara, my love!
(NEARA turns away, not able to look. PISTOS is gone. A pause)
And Neara- this plea of yours, this asking for Pistos’s banishment instead of death: you are not, you do not… it was only lust you felt for this Pistos yourself, yes?
Yes, Your Majesty. It was nothing but… simple lust.
Excellent. Then all has sorted well. Come, Neara, give me a kiss.
Yes, Your Majesty.
(touched or turned on, as is appropriate.) Awwwww.
You are dismissed, sweet child.
Really, Portieris, it’s not so difficult to understand, our simple commandment against that elusive ardor which makes people insane, is it?