Director-adaptor Mary Zimmerman is back with another literary adaptation of the type that has become an all-too-familiar staple on the Chi theatrical menu. Like most of Zimmerman's other work in this genre, "S/M" suffers from a wordy pretentiousness that deflates the production at every step along its twisted way.

Director-adaptor Mary Zimmerman is back with another literary adaptation of the type that has become an all-too-familiar staple on the Chi theatrical menu. Like most of Zimmerman’s other work in this genre, “S/M” suffers from a wordy pretentiousness that deflates the production at every step along its twisted way.

In preparing her script, Zimmerman apparently scrupulously researched the lives and writings of her two colorful subjects, the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Zimmerman then stitched together, quite randomly it seems, a series of scenes that purport to capture the flavor of the lives of these two sexual hedonists. But it would require considerably more than a passing familiarity with Sade and Masoch to make sense of most of “S/M.”

The piece opens with a reading from the dictionary that describes de Sade as a French pervert. One would have hoped for a piece that vividly explored the risque nature of Sade’s and Masoch’s particular perversions, but “S/M” mostly is a series of polite recitations and rather quaint scenes. None of it hangs together enough to flesh out the personalities or the perversions of the characters in question.

The production is presented on a wooden stage surrounded by scaffolding rising up three floors. The audience sits on folding chairs looking down on the action. It’s a nifty arrangement that, unfortunately, adds little to one’s enjoyment of a badly conceived production.

Zimmerman’s large cast strives to be colorful, but only infrequently succeeds in infusing her script with much life. As Sade, the very wholesome-looking Andrew White displays precious little perversity, and David Kersnar is even less interesting in the role of Masoch.

Aside from the scaffolding, John Culbert’s set isn’t much to look at, but his lighting is a lot more fascinating than most of the characters it illuminates. Mara Blumenfeld’s period costumes appear a bit threadbare.

S/m: A Dream Biography

Production

CHICAGO A Lookingglass Theater Company presentation of a play in one act written and directed by Mary Zimmerman, based on the lives and writings of the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.

Crew

Sets, lighting, John Culbert; costumes, Mara Blumenfeld; sound, Michael Bodeen; music, Bodeen, Miriam Sturm; production stage manager, Jennifer Smith. Artistic director, Laura Eason; managing director, David Catlin. Opened Jan. 24, 1996, at the Steppenwolf Studio Theater. Reviewed Jan. 25; 150 seats; $ 19.50 top. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

With

Cast: Thomas J. Cox (Gaufridy, Young Masoch, etc.), Joy Gregory (Fanny Von Pister, Rose Keller, etc.), David Kersnar (Sade's father, older Masoch, etc.), Jennifer Smith (the stage manager), Philip R. Smith (Dolmance, Inspector Marais, Justine's Father, etc.), Heidi Stillman (Eugenie, Juliette, Actual Wanda, etc.), Lisa Tejero (Madame de Montreuil, etc.), Tracy Walsh (Sade's mother, Sade's wife , Laura de Sade, etc.), Margaret Werry (the Abbe de Sade, Imaginary Wanda, etc.) , Andrew White (Sade, etc.), Meredith Zinner (Justine, etc.).
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