Loveplay Examined through Historical Images

Three scenes in conversation with visual culture

Moira Buffini’s Loveplay exhibits spectacles of sex and notions of love. The play’s 10 scenes depict a progression of time, starting during the “Classical Age” and ending in contemporary time, “The Age of Excess.” Here are three of the scenes from Loveplay in conversation with visual culture that is parallel to Buffini’s themes:

Buffini’s “The Classical Age, 79AD” versus Édouard Manet’s Olympia, 1863

The theme: sex for a price.

Buffini’s protagonist, Marcus, is a Roman soldier who is yearning for a release within Dorcas, a prostitute. Dorcas’ body comes at a price and Marcus fails at negotiating. Marcus leaves in anger due to his limp and withered desire.

In Manet’s Olympia, a young woman is reclined on a bed wearing a flower, a choker necklace, a bracelet, delicate heels, and nothing else. Dark black shading traces the contours of her body, emphasizing her stiff profile and erect nipples. Her hand is firmly placed over her genitals and her dominant gaze directly confronts the viewer. She seems to ask: “How much are you willing to pay?”

The Enlightenment, 1735 versus Aubrey Beardsley’s Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist, 1893

Roxanne is an educated, wealthy woman who has never had an intimate encounter with the opposite sex. She pays a lower class man to privately come into her home and undress in front of her. Roxanne exerts her domination over this man through intellect and status until she succumbs to irrational feelings. As she softly touches his naked body, she is overcome with emotions and begins to cry. The man attempts to comfort Roxanne by kissing her, but she rejects his intentions. She turns away and orders him to dress and leave her home. Her final behavior re-establishes her superiority and her independence from feeling.

In Aubrey Beardsley’s image, Salome holds John the Baptist’s head next to her own. Both figures are suspended in the air, as if floating in a trance. As blood flows down from John the Baptist’s head, Salome’s gaze attempts to pierce into his psyche. This image is an illustration for Oscar Wilde’s Salome, which was inspired by the Biblical story of Salome. Herod Antipas, a powerful ruler, requested that Salome dance before him. She agrees, but for a price: Herod Antipas must give her the head of John the Baptist. Driven by lust, Herod Antipas agrees and is not disappointed. He watches Salome’s sensual dance with burning desire; her sultry, erotic contortions bewitch his thoughts. This a woman who wields her body for a price; a woman who separates her emotions from her darkest desires.

The Age of Excess versus Paul McCarthy’s Tree, 2014

Buffini portrays the contemporary moment as disconnected and confused. Rita is a secretary for Anita, a matchmaker. They are also lovers. The two women become disconnected by Anita’s inability to say “I love you” to Rita. Without this display of affirmation, Rita sees the relationship as meaningless and leaves.

Paul McCarthy’s recent installation in Paris exhibits a similar sense of disconnection. His art installation, Tree, is a massive blown-up object with a phallic shape that resembles a sex toy. This green artwork has garnered an incredible amount of negative reviews, which culminated to its unauthorized deflation. The majority of viewers are unable to connect with Tree in a positive way, which shows that McCarthy has not successfully conveyed his artistic intent to viewers. Without this connection between viewer, artwork, and artist, Tree appears to be an object without meaning.


  1. Olympia:
  2. Salome:
  3. Tree:

Presenter: U of A Studio Theatre
Event Title: Moira Buffini Festival
Featuring: Loveplay by Moira Buffini, on now until November 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee November 6 at 12:30 p.m.
No shows on Sunday.
Venue: Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta
Single show tickets: $11 student, $22 adult, $20 senior available online now at TIX on the Square and at the Timms Centre box office one hour before each performance.