Symphony of Sex, Shakura Ensemble Ritual Theatre, at Theatre Building Chicago. At the end of her New Age performance piece, Shakura founder Blanche Blacke gives a monologue/lecture. “Sex as sin or sex as divine is a choice,” she says. Women must own their sexuality as divine, she maintains, because “a woman’s energy uplifts a man’s.” Such statements echo the Victorian view of women, used to uphold the antisex ethic of the time–that because women are more pure than men they must improve the human race. But the performance doesn’t explore this concept at all. In fact it seems to put women in situations where they’re passive, degraded, and abused.

The five vignettes, created by Blacke and directed by her with Tina Boyer-Brown, essentially offer 90 minutes of simulated sex based on Blacke’s observation of and research into sexual rituals from various ancient and modern cultures. These reenacted rituals may be based in fact, but they often feel like soft-core porn. In one vignette, a young virgin is initiated within Aphrodite’s temple by a sensuous older woman, then couples with the young man conveniently standing by. In another scene, a young woman is gang-raped while Blacke’s character looks on cheerfully. Blacke purports to tell an uplifting story, but in fact she casts women as puppets manipulated by men’s ferocious sexuality. In the end this show is nothing but a tease.