Love Masters, NY

Written by:
John Sullivan
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‘Love Masters’

Created and performed by Erick Paiva-Noguchi
Theater for the New City, New York
Through Aug. 31, 2011

The advertising for Erick Paiva-Noguchi’s “Love Masters” refers to the show as “a multimedia performance art play on the journey of a tantric massage” and warns of nudity and sexual content (“mature audiences only!”). The show, currently running in the DreamUp Festival at Theater for the New City in the East Village, is indeed an unusual experiment in live art. Onstage in this tiny basement theater stands a massage table, on which a naked hunk (Antton Harri on opening night; four performers, three men and one woman, alternate in this role) lies down to receive full-body touch from the Tantric Master (Noguchi), who is dressed in an elaborate costume until he strips down to two layers of jockstrap. The hour-long massage ritual takes place against a backdrop of two white bedsheets onto which is projected an experimental film (mostly video footage shot by Noguchi in Peru and Japan) meant to represent the inner experience of the participants, accompanied by a blasting mix of club music, vintage Bowie, and Sinead O’Connor.

As performance art, the piece is undercooked. The connection between the images in the film (a Japanese bakery, place names, books about chakras and Tom of Finland, a faceless guy in leather gear masturbating onto a Peruvian flag) and the live action may be clear in the artist’s mind and in his press materials (which have a lot to say about Noguchi’s interest in Eastern philosophy and the profound impact of an ayahuasca ceremony he experienced earlier this year). But they’re not evident to the audience. As a live sex show, it’s not exactly action-packed, though it is titillating. As adult sex education, it successfully models the idea of leisurely, sensual, intimate touch that is aimed at circulating erotic energy rather than producing an orgasm. As instruction in tantra, it’s all show and no tell—I doubt if anyone left knowing anything more about tantra than they did going in. A respectable experiment, “Love Masters” wound up being more of an exercise in voyeurism. It certainly wasn’t a painful experience to witness Noguchi’s loving attention to his love slave’s magnificent derriere and beautiful phallus (do a Google image search for Antton Harri for rampant evidence). If anything, it was one of those shows where an invitation for the audience to participate might have been enthusiastically welcomed.

Don Shewey

Editor’s note: is proud to note that our New York theater critic, Don Shewey, is among 50 theater professionals chosen by Theatre Communications Group to discuss their work in an online video that you can view here. In addition to congratulating Don, we wish to recognize the dozens of reviews he has contributed to this site since he began writing for us in 2010. Don is that rare critic, a tireless observer who never loses perspective nor enthusiasm in the course of making the rounds of New York’s daunting variety of theatrical offerings, from Broadway to Lower East Side fringe. We salute him and look forward to posting his reviews for a long time to come.

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