Say Ahhh

Many people have a phobia about dentists, those seemingly benign professionals who deal in wholesome smiles. Underneath the mild-mannered exterior, however, there lurks someone who wants to cram large objects down strangers' throats, dangle his hands in their mouths, and ask them to spit and bite on a daily basis, not to mention put them to sleep while prying at their jaws. Furthermore, the waiting rooms are often filled with those handheld toys and games—found nowhere else, it seems—that involve jets of water and small rings and balls. These dentists do traffic in a queer combination of pleasure and pain. Given this, maybe people's fears about them aren't actually irrational after all.

Bite, a sex farce about a group of dentists and their patients who moonlight at an S&M parlor, has been revamped since its trial run last April. While there was plenty of "vamp" in the original show, the new play has been improved. A few holes in the script have been filled, and the actors have had more drilling.

The main premise of the play—besides watching the actors prance around in fetish gear while getting gently slapped, kissed, whipped, and spanked—is that at certain "choice moments" the audience can vote for what it wants the repressed momma's boy, Dr. Greenmeadow, D.M.D., to do in "sticky" ethical and sexual situations. For example, should he make out with the coquettish vixen in a schoolgirl's outfit (Amy Overman), who tells him she's gorged on candy so she can get cavities and therefore see more of him? Many of the outcomes, thankfully, are counterintuitive, and there are some interesting twists.

In the old script, the fun of this chose-your-own-adventure gimmick, as Jessie Marshall's review noted last year, "dissolves into utter futility as it becomes apparent that the audience's 'choices' do not really affect the action in a significant way." The new version, however, has many more significant and tightly plotted deviations—with some choices leading to more deviant outcomes than others. In fact, writer and director Suzanne Bachner's total script, with all variants, has more than 200 pages.

Nevertheless, the choices still feel like digressions from a rather inevitable (if not fully realized) ending. The night I went, the final choice was shrugged aside, and the audience members were allowed to shout out what they wanted to happen to the characters in a rather inconclusive way.

The cast, however, is game for the romping, somewhat unpredictable antics. Robert Brown as Dr. Greenmeadow displays aplomb for generating laughs as the gentle, professional Everyman with a kinky side and questionable sexuality. At one point, thrust hard in a chair by a dominatrix (who may or may not be his hard-boiled receptionist), he almost accidentally tipped backward—only to deftly recover at the last moment, tilting up with a flourishing dance of his eyebrows and, of course, a winning smile. He's one "bottom" who is sure to come out on top.

On the other hand, Jennifer Gill, playing the naïve, white-trash Southern belle who resorts to being a submissive in Purgatory (the upscale S&M parlor) in order to afford expensive dental work, was a bit unconvincing in spite of her natural charm and delight in the frivolity. She never appeared to be in pain—either when her teeth hurt or when she was punished as a sex slave.

The mood of the whole play, in fact, is weirdly more warm and fuzzy than dark and edgy, despite frequent depictions of sexual abuse and more extreme things that are probably inappropriate to mention here. Nothing is really at stake, because no matter how many times we see bondage and beatings (though, oddly, no biting), none of the characters seem at risk of getting hurt. They rather enjoy it all—and when they don't, there's always a "safe word." As the suave, womanizing Dr. Bruce (Justine Plowman)—Greenmeadow's rival at the practice—might say, "It's just how we roll."

The S&M dungeon, as its mistress (Theresa Goehring) informs Dr. Greenmeadow, is a "lair of fetish and fantasy"—essentially a stage for one's "sexual psychodrama": clients are not allowed to have actual sex or get injured. Likewise, the play itself—especially in the second act when all the characters' supposedly darker flipsides come out underground—is merely innocuous psychodrama. The dentist's office, with its insidious sexual undercurrent of genuine freakish menace, contained the greater potential for comedic material.

The play suggests that even in the most humdrum homebody of us there dwells a secret, kinky sex freak just waiting to don a bondage mask or dominate a leather-clad slave who's balled and gagged. While there may be more bark than bite in this production's light take on a dark subject, it's sure to leave you smiling.

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