Volume 78 - Number 51 / May 27 - June 2 , 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Written by Leslie Ayvazian
Directed by Christian Parker
Presented by Atlantic Theater Company
May 31 through June 14
Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street
(212) 279-4200, or www.atlantictheater.org

Photo by Doug Hamilton

From left: Jessica Hecht, Richard Masur, Candy Buckley

Here to torture, instruct and protect

Ayvazian inspired by the power of pounding music, high boots

By Jerry Tallmer

These boots were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do.

One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

—Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, 1966

Everybody has a dirty little secret in Leslie’s “Make Me.”

Hank and Sissy’s dirty little secret is that they are all washed up and don’t know it.

Eddie and Connie’s dirty little secret is that Eddie is too bored to take seriously the power games Connie pursues as soon as their two girls are packed off to school every morning. Indeed, he plays along — until it’s too late.

Phil’s dirty little secret is Mistress Lorraine, the dominatrix to whose “dungeon” he goes to every day for punishment, by words and whip, for being a weak, lousy mayor of the New Jersey town in which they all live — and Phil isn’t his real name either.

The strands of these six lives, or three pairs — Hank and Sissy, Eddie and Connie, Phil and Mistress Lorraine — are crisscrossed together like intermeshing spiders’ webs by the playwright who did as much, and more, for those reality based “Nine Armenians” of her own personal bloodlines 13 years ago. There were no boots and whips in that poetic drama, except perhaps on the feet and in the hands of Turkish soldiers in 1915 slaughtering Armenians in the Forgotten Holocaust.

Here, in “Make Me,” at the Atlantic Stage 2 on Chelsea’s West 16th Street, it is to Mistress Lorraine in her Lower East Side dungeon — in the midst of one of Phil’s groveling penitential sessions — that Connie has come for instruction on how to wield a whip and make it sting, how to swagger-stride in those huge high dominating boots, all that.

So how did Connie find a dominatrix to study from? Why, on the Internet, of course — just the way real-life Leslie Ayvazian, playwright and sometime actress, found a real-life dominatrix to educate the “Make Me” company in whip handling, boot swagger, and other such matters.

“She comes to rehearsals and is absolutely fantastic,” Ms. Ayvazian said one morning last week; just before heading for Providence, Rhode Island, for her son’s graduation from Brown University.

One doesn’t suppose your dominatrix taught the male actors how to whip.

“No,” the playwright replied dryly,

The first sparks of “Nine Armenians” and of “Make Me” had flashed upon her, she says, in different ways.

“With ‘Nine Armenians’ it was the single image of an Armenian-American family in the driveway of their house, packing a car with food and memories though they would only be separated a couple of hours.”

“I was away too much [as an actress] when my son was growing up. So I wrote ‘Nine Armenians’ for him.

“With ‘Make Me’ it was several things. First, my son the lead guitarist and his rock band — this loud, pounding music that normally I would not choose to be around. But here was my darling son, Ivan Anderson, making this music since he was in seventh grade, and now he was a senior at Brown!

“He’d even composed music for me when I was driving a car, and with all this I started thinking in very literal terms about the kind of power in this throbbing, pounding music that I’d found inspiring in a way I hadn’t expected.

“That was one component.

“Another — this will sound funny — occurred when I was participating in an actors’ workshop with Olympia Dukakis six years ago, when Ivan was a senior in high school.

“This woman came in — I don’t know her name, never did — wearing these huge, high boots. She saw me eyeing them, and said to me: ‘What size are you?’ and then handed them to me to wear. I started walking around the room, and as I walked I felt a kind of power. When I got back to my chair my shoes were gone and there was a note on the chair saying she’d taken them. It left me with no choice except to walk to my car in these huge, high boots.”

The scenes (or intersecting fragments of scenes) in Mistress Lorraine’s dungeon are comedic and degrading all rolled into one, for Mistress Loraine, like Leslie Ayvazian’s Internet find, is, no matter how domineering, a teacher, a painstaking — and pain-giving--instructor at heart.

There is even a whiff of Jean Genet here.

MISTRESS: Foot fetish, pony play, leatherfetish, role play

CONNIE: Pony play?

MISTRESS: Pick up a crop. Flick it like this on the back of the head. Remember pony play, Phil?…What did you do?

PHIL: I galloped, Mistress.

MISTRESS: What did I do?

PHIL: Sat on my shoulders and gripped my head between your legs, Mistress.

Suddenly I see, as if it were yesterday, tall, gorgeous Salome Jens galloping around gloriously naked, tossing her long hair, whip in hand, as the Pony Girl in José Quintero’s 1960 production of Genet’s “The Balcony” at Circle-on-the-Square on Bleecker Street.

All of which brings us to a topic of some current national interest: Torture. Does “Make Me’ not have some relevance here?

“To tell you the truth, not really,” says the woman who wrote it. “Not like Christopher Durang’s play, ‘Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them.’ You know, the dominatrix and her client have to have a very pure relationship. It’s like she says in the play (when instructing Connie on ways and means):

“ ‘Before you and your client…embark on a scene, you decide what he can handle and what the limits are. You’re not here just to torture. You’re here to protect!’”

Leslie Ayvazian, born-in-Boston Armenian, turns 60 this summer. (Her play “High Dive” celebrated turning 50.) Ivan’s father is her husband, prestigious architect Sam Anderson. “He’s very cool,” she says. “I’ve had a crush on him for 33 years.”

The director of “Make Me” is Christian Parker. The actors are Jessica Hecht as Connie, Anthony Arkin as Eddie, Ellen Parker as Sissy, J.R. Horne as Hank, Richard Masur as Phil, and Candy Buckley as Mistress Lorraine.

Yes, playwright Ayvazian still has those oversized boots. No, she says, she doesn’t wear them. Cool.

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