My Meeting with a Dominatrix

A long time ago, a one-act play I had written – running time of about 45 minutes – was quite successful. It was performed at a number of small theaters in Manhattan and also in several night clubs. The director, Jim, would approach venues; I got us some helpful publicity. Sometimes one of the actors would find a likely space and get us booked in.

There were weeks when the play was performed at a theater’s lunchtime series on a Wednesday, at a club on a Thursday evening, and over the weekend at another theater. Based on these experiences off- and off-off-Broadway, I once told a panel on playwriting at a writers’ conference: “Success off-off-Broadway is when the stairway to the theater doesn’t smell of urine.”

With a cast of eight, all playing important roles, we kept adding new actors. After a while, the actors recruited their friends to fill in for specific performances. Neither Jim nor I knew who some of them were.

One day I got a call at the office where I was working. It was Jim. There was a performance that evening at a club in the West Village. Someone named Fred was scheduled to play the leading male role. According to Jim, several of the actors refused to go on with Fred, since he was a really bad actor – untalented and amateurish.

Jim’s nifty solution: I would play the role.

At that time, I wasn’t doing much acting, although I’d had some experience. I had acted in college and had recently played the Stage Manager in a community-theater production of Our Town. Much of our play – about a disastrous poetry reading hosted by a genteel women’s club in a small town – could be read from pages the actors held – they were reading their poems, after all.

I had to say yes. During my lunch hour, I bought the clothes I would need. That afternoon, I spent as much time as I could memorizing the lines I had to know. In the evening, our West Village performance went well.

Jim called another day. He’d seen a notice in the Village Voice or one of the trade papers. A theater was looking for family entertainment on Sunday afternoons. We should go for it, he said. He was sure I could change the script – it was full of outrageously foul language and sexual references, which is why the poetry reading was disastrous and why our play was a comedy – so it would be appropriate for families. He was too busy to make the arrangements (he was always disappearing on business that he never disclosed), so he gave me the theater’s number.

I called. I felt, from the sound of her voice, that I had awakened the woman who answered, although it was 3:00 in the afternoon. I explained why I was calling and we made an appointment to meet at the theater the next day at 6:00, after my work day.

The address on 13th Street was a storefront with no signage. The empty display window had dusty velvet curtains that prevented seeing into the space. There was a small sheet taped to the window: “Ask for a Tour of our Dungeon.”

I had to knock several times. Finally I heard slow, heavy footsteps approaching the door. Several bolts and locks were opened. The woman at the door was tall, middle-aged, wearing some kind of Gypsy costume – or maybe it was a housecoat and sweater over a nightgown.

“Helga Svetlana?” I asked, and introduced myself.

“I can be addressed as ‘Countess,’” she replied.

She led me down a long corridor, which meant passing through chains made of black plastic that were hung at several points. The space at the back of the storefront was clearly a bar, dismal in daylight and badly in need of paint. There were several small tables and a number of booths. No real stage, but we had performed in alternative spaces before.

What seemed impossible for “family entertainment” was the smell of the place. It reeked of stale beer. Years of it. By now, my naive self had caught on to the nature of the place and to Countess Helga’s profession, and I hoped that all I was smelling was stale beer. I assumed the dungeon – wherever it was – was where the real action took place.

Our meeting took only 10 minutes. As she related in her strong, cultured voice, Countess Helga was sincere in her desire to attract families with children to Sunday afternoon performances, a time when her regular clientele were otherwise occupied, possibly with Bible study or backyard barbecues. I didn’t jump at the opportunity, but I explained our play and its history. She seemed interested – ready, I thought, to engage us for the following Sunday.

I said I would phone after speaking with the director. “Call any time,” she said. “I’m always up by 4:00.”

I had to tell Jim that this wasn’t the right place for us to bring our play.

A couple of years later, I wrote the following song lyric based on my meeting with Helga Svetlana and what I had read about her vocation. A composer I was working with set it to music and the resulting song has been used in an occasional cabaret performance.

 

MISTRESS ALEXANDRA

Enter through the hanging chains –
watch your step in candlelight.
I’m always here to serve you
any day, any night.
Take off your warm suit jacket –
put on leather instead of tweed.
Mistress Alexandra
has exactly what you need.

In your home or in the boardroom,
are you tired from the attacks?
What I offer for your pleasure
is a place you can relax.
Your fantasies are welcome –
any thought or any deed.
Mistress Alexandra
has exactly what you need.

You’ve been bad today
you’ve been had today
you’ve been mad today.
We can see today
what you’ll be today –
play with me today.
You can cry today
you can try today
you know why today.
I’ll take care of everything.

Will you be a naughty schoolboy,
spanked for doing what you must?
Or a banker put in shackles
for endangering a trust?
Imagination wanders –
let it go where it may lead.
Mistress Alexandra
has exactly what you need.

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2 comments

  1. Enjoyed reading this, Lew.Paula

  2. Ed Curtis · · Reply

    Would love to hear the music! I can picture Mistriss Alexandra and think I may be drawn to her.

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