• U.S.

The Sexes: Sex Fantasy on Broadway

4 minute read

New Jersey Businessman, age 42: I want to be dressed as a baby.

Blonde: Do you want to pretend you are a baby, or do you want to be humiliated?

Businessman: Humiliated. The trigger words are diaper, pin, powder and naughty.

Blonde: Anything else?

Businessman: Oh, yes—itchy, kitchy-koo.

The businessman who took part in this odd dialogue is about to become a star He was working out the script, costuming and lighting of his own personal sex fantasy, which he will act out with the Project, a theater group that has been performing in a creaking loft in lower Manhattan. During both their regular shows and the weekly audience-participation night, the Project’s five actors and actresses concentrate with missionary zeal on their goal: to purge the demons of the audience’s sexual fantasies.

Soft Core. “We’re not therapists, but we know we help,” says Leil Lowndes, 30, the former producer of a radio talk show, who founded the Project “We want people to feel free. Most people’s fantasies are very beautiful and very creative”—and apparently very much in demand: this week, under the title Another Way to Love, the show is opening in a 300-seat theater for a three-week run on Broadway.

Since 1975, the Project has been staging its soft-core fantasies-no sex acts or nudity-before small, mostly middle-class audiences. Given the subject matter, the show is relentlessly high-minded. Before curtain time, Lowndes moves among the audience with the professional warmth of a good nurse, offering to supply one man with the names of effective therapists and sexologists, pointing out to another that Gladstone, Rousseau and Aristotle were good men —and masochists.*

Moments later she is onstage for the first of eight skits. She plays a schoolteacher who seduces a pupil, then is surprised and caned by the school principal The longest number includes a rape fantasy, wrestling women, and the punishment of a rapist by whipping and crucifixion. Chip Durgom, a small, bearded man of 28, stars in The Astronaut, a sketch involving a woman’s fantasy about shrinking a man to the height of only a few inches, which then shades into a man’s fantasy about returning to the womb. In a chicken fantasy, Durgom plays a squawking bird about to be roasted and carved by Big Mama. Like much of the show, the chicken scene is played broadly for laughs.

“We have to do this with humor because there’s no other way to bring the show off without nudity or obscenity, explains Fred Perna, 40, who both produces the show and plays the crucifixion victim. Perna joined the troupe because my sexual guilt was making me an alcoholic. I was promiscuous, but I think I’m a kind, gentle person. Why do I need the guilt?”

In rap sessions after the show, patrons often ask, “What’s normal?” Lowndes’ usual response: “Normal is anything you’re not ashamed to tellsomeone on the first date.” Should people seek sex partners who fit roles in their fantasies? “No,” Lowndes told one baffled young man. “Seek someone you can love. The game playing will arise naturally out of affection.

Thursday night is amateur night, when audience members, by appointment, act out their fantasies onstage. “Some nights we have all spanking fantasies,” says Lowndes, who prefers a bit more variety. Other popular numbers are female wrestling, dressing men in lingerie, and foot tickling. Says Lowndes: “About 80% of the people who come to us are submissives; they want some mild humiliation. I feel most of it comes from childhood. Mother told us when to get up, when to eat-and spanked us when we were bad. Yet was all very secure, and what better place to re-create this love than in the bedroom?”

Most psychiatrists agree that sex fantasies are normal and should be enjoyed without shame. But some have reservations about Lowndes’ advice to act them out; many fantasies are clearly violent and dangerous. Says Lowndes: pray we’re not naive. We have to weigh the millions of people suffering from harmless fantasies against the possibility of encouraging a kook like Charles Manson If I found that we produced one violent person with our show, I think we would fold up our tent.”

*Rousseau had lifelong fantasies of being beaten and Gladstone practiced self-flagellation. There is a legend, but no evidence, that Aristotle was masochistic.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com