Sometimes theatre is tough. As I sat watching the first, and then second ‘luring’ scenes, I got increasingly uncomfortable. But I realized that a) I’m supposed to be reacting this way, and b) I was thinking of how much the actual gay Russian victims suffered, having been lured to a room on the promise of a date and then savagely beaten and humiliated. I could afford a little discomfort.

LURED, though fictional, is based on the very real rising trend of homophobic hate crimes in Russia egged on by Putin’s anti-gay legislation, and largely ignored by the complicit police.

Upon entering the theatre, the set immediately gives you shivers. It is very very dirty, sad, and dingy. Is this a derelict apartment? Is it a torture cell? Is it an abandoned warehouse? I see vodka, and a dildo, and what’s that kiddies pool doing here? All will be revealed… unfortunately. A Russian accented command to turn off our phones is broadcast, and the relentless action begins.

Just as billed, the violence is tough to watch. The first lured victim shows up for a clandestine gay date, but that is not what is waiting for him. After a prolonged… well… victimization, he is ultimately stripped and further humiliated. Then it all happens again, in a weirdly identical manner, but mysteriously with an entirely different cast of characters. The action culminates in a third confrontation where it starts to dawn on the audience what is really going on. As the characters’ inner demons are revealed, it becomes clear how each uses them to gain power over the other.

Much of the action is led by Dmitry, powerfully played by John Dimino. His apparent homophobic attack on the first victim Sergie (Kalen Hall) has a hint of mystery. A tiara?. Later you find why. A second victim, Valentin (Marc Lombardo) is much more vulnerable having been lured by the very sexy Evgeny (Brendan Daugherty). Because we are allowed to see a glimpse of tenderness between the two, the impact of his naked humiliation is more horrific than the first. The ultimate act confirms the acting chops of Cali Gilman as Tatianna, who is defiant until the end. Carlotta Brentan as Zhanna gives us some of the more touching moments of the night as she wrestles with action vs inaction.

Last year, I was at an anti-Chechnya demonstration and heard a young Justin Romanov speak powerfully about his fleeing Russia after being bashed. I braved this play for Justin, and all the other Justin’s out there. You should too.

LURED is at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, NYC, Nov 17, 2018 through Nov 25, 2018 Limited Engagement. It then travels to Rome, Italy. TICKETS