DOMINIUM (L. The Right of Ownership), Great Beast Theater, at the National Pastime Theater. Michael Martin’s convoluted play about the head and body games of sadomasochistic relationships is a catalog of theatrically and psychologically dysfunctional ambiguity. His characters struggle with internal and interpersonal trauma, enacting master/slave relationships for therapeutic reasons and for personal pleasure. The plot is a sado-romantic triangle interrupted at its most violent point by the unanticipated arrival of the lead character’s mother, who orchestrates a bizarre sado-nuptial frenzy and disappears, leaving the three game players to toy with each other, then separate.

The play includes one apparently realistic S-M scenario, and it explains the “safe words” (words agreed on in advance that will end the scene) and other protective rules of the culture, forming a moral context for the sadomasochistic situation. However, Martin’s obsessive stream-of-consciousness language makes the play feel more like a masturbatory cryptogram than a drama. Sexual satisfaction is not important in this talky narrative; confession, age regression, and escaping the body’s pain are the climaxes induced by the S-M role-playing here. Overloaded with obvious images of purity, obscenity, despair, and power, Dominium confuses us instead of involving us in the psychology and erotics of S-M relationships.

–Carol Burbank