Spanked!

The key to understanding "queer theatre" is that it's all about degrees. For mainstream audiences, watching a play about a gay baseball player, like Richard Greenberg's "Take Me Out," can seem cutting edge. Not so for downtown audiences, for whom it takes a piece like "Spanked!" to raise an eyebrow.

Written by, starring, and all about Aaron Hartzler and Ian McKinnon, a young gay couple, the piece analyzes and explores how they achieve intimacy through spanking, tracing the painful wallops they got as kids to the pleasurable wallops they now give each other.

And yes, there was spanking in the show, and the way Hartzler and McKinnon used it was interesting: Whenever Hartzler bent over to help "illustrate" something, the effect was often hilarious. Some scenes were cathartic, such as when McKinnon recalled his father and the feelings his childhood spankings generated in him. Sometimes the performers even dared the audience to confront their own opinions on the topic. But, too often, the show overdid it, turning pedantic, derivative, and repetitive.

To be sure, examining the relationship between erotic spanking and parental spanking is not only interesting but, as was proved, largely theatrical. Still, the key to performance art, among other things, is knowing when to stop hammering home the point.

Hartzler and McKinnon might seek help from Jacob Titus, their able director. Although they spend the bulk of the show recalling their childhoods, Titus kept the pace as brisk as the text (and accompanying slideshows) would allow him. Even so, here's the bottom line: "Spanked!," by refusing to be concise, was ultimately rather abusive--of the audience. At the end, when the performers disrobe, step into an inflatable pool, and bathe each other, it was the ultimate example of audience-alienating self-indulgence, rather than what it should have been--a touching moment.