Colleen Kruse (bottom) and Karen Vieno Paurus are a perfect pairing in "The Lotus Center for Renewal" at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. Photo by Leslie Plesser/ Shuttersmack.
"The Lotus Center for Renewal" sounds like someplace you might debut your new Luluemon yoga ensemble or learn tai chi. But it's actually where men go to fulfill darker, more private urges through one-on-one fantasy scenarios with the women who work there, one step or so removed from a brothel or massage parlor.
It's also the primary setting for a new age-18-plus show featuring five original stories told by Colleen Kruse, alternated with songs written and performed by Karen Vieno Paurus.
Kruse begins by reminding us that "everyone is weird," which in hindsight may be interpreted as a gentle suggestion to park your judgments outside. She briefly examines her own vulnerabilities around the universal desire to be desired, then moves on to the mysterious demimonde of the Lotus.
Whether she's doing stand-up comedy or showing her serious side as she does here, Kruse rivets with her honesty. As she delves into the paid-for secrets of the Lotus clientele, the stories become a collective rumination on where the search for sex without intimacy --or at most momentary, compartmentalized intimacy -- can take "normal" people. She makes frank observations about the customers, and herself, keeping pity at bay.
Paurus's voice, always effortlessly soulful, here takes on a hushed, confidential tone. She may be on stage, but she's performing for an audience of one, particularly in a highly personal rendition of the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," the only song in the show she didn't write herself.
The magic of this unusual show, also booked for a stint in Los Angeles in April, has less to do with its subject than the easy, mutually fond dynamic between Kruse and Paurus. As one unnerves, the other soothes. Both are masters of their respective arts and the best of friends in real life -- the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of sensual raconteuring.
"The Lotus Center for Renewal" runs 7 p.m. Fri. and Sat. through Feb. 22. Tickets $20 at bryant-lakebowl.com/theater.