Monday, February 17, 2014

222. Review of SEX TIPS FOR STRAIGHT WOMEN FROM A GAY MAN (February 15, 2014)



Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Jason Michael Snow. Photo: Jeremy Daniels.

Shows that invite audience participation can elicit strikingly different reactions from the spectators in attendance. Sometimes it helps to know what you’re in store for before you go, so in the interests of public service, I’ll describe what some audience members are asked to do at SEX TIPS FOR STRAIGHT WOMEN FROM A GAY MAN, directed by Tim Drucker and playing at the 47th Street Theatre at 777 Eighth Avenue. At one point, the host, a flamboyant gay man (Jason Michael Snow) playing the role of Dan Anderson, the coauthor (with Maggie Berman) of the book the show is based on, asks three women to come up on stage. None of those selected the day I was there seemed very willing but they allowed their resistance to be overcome and soon they were asked to put blindfolds over their eyes. Two of these women were middle-aged, the third a bit younger. They were then asked to imagine holding a man’s scrotum in one hand and his penis in the other, and to demonstrate their masturbatory technique. As they giggled and blushed, many in the audience howled with laughter at their mimic stroking, after which the one that received the loudest applause was judged the winner.

From left: Jason Michael Snow, Andrew Brewer, Lindsay Nicole Chambers. Photo: Jeremy Daniels.
             Then there was the moment when everyone in the audience was asked to roll their programs into a cylinder and, imagining they were holding someone else’s penis, copy the stroking gestures Dan was demonstrating. As they did so, he walked through the house videotaping them with the images being projected on the onstage screen. I seem to have been the only person in the theatre not following the instructions and, when the camera focused on me, I did one of those “get that camera off my face” hand swipes, but, of course, that made me seem only more the repressed old prude when the image flashed on the screen.

            There’s lots more where this came from, including a rocket that shoots confetti sperm all over the audience to the accompaniment of musical “hallelujahs,” an audience survey asking for people to offer their favorite penis names (“Anaconda,” “Sperm Rocket,” “Custard Launcher,” and “Best Friend” were humbly submitted, among others),  a spaceman strip tease, a woman brought on stage to tickle and tweak the pecs of a well-built actor, and so on.

            When I gripe about the morass of tastelessness into which the theatre seems to slide ever deeper each season, and the comparable lack of taste of audiences (judging by their reactions to such schlock), I feel like a latter day Clement Scott complaining about Ibsen’s GHOSTS in 1881: “an open sewer, a hideous untreated wound, a filthy act performed in public, a lepers’ hospital with all its windows and doors wide open.” As someone who considers himself a liberal in most social matters, I wouldn’t go so far as Scott, of course, but when an entire audience of 2014 theatergoers—men, women, straight, and gay—attending an Off-Broadway comedy engages in an act of mock masturbation of a paper phallus, I sense that something’s rotten in the state of theatre.

Andrew Brewer. Photo: Jeremy Daniels.

            SEX TIPS FOR STRAIGHT WOMEN FROM A GAY MAN, based on Anderson and Berman's book (which Meryl Streep consults in her movie with Tommy Lee Jones,  HOPE SPRINGS), uses a set designed by Luke Cantarella resembling a paneled lecture stage with a projection screen at the rear; the locale is the fictional Midtown Manhattan Community College where a meet the authors forum is being held called “Rendezvous with Alternative Authors of the Modern Era” (RAAM ME, to which I’m unable to reply LMFAO). When it turns out that the regular moderator has died, her substitute, Robyn (Lindsay Nicole Chambers), a young, bespectacled, mousy student takes over. Soon enough, her mousiness is replaced by a sexy dress and she becomes completely absorbed in the raunchy shenanigans.  It’s actually the brassy character of Dan Anderson who takes over the proceedings, however, which are presented in his “interactive, sound-effects, jazzman thing” way as he works his way through the  book's six chapters, highlighting each chapter’s advice with flashy set pieces. A hunky Russian-accented stagehand, Stefan (Andrew Brewer), calling himself a "scientist," is the third leg of the play’s performing trio, and, while he never strips completely naked, much of the activity focuses on his muscular body. At one point he sports an inflated penile balloon. One might say the humor here is blown way out of proportion.

            If you’re looking for something that’s a perfect blend of juvenilia, puerility, and sophomoric humor, you’ve come to the right place. The audience certainly seemed to think so. However, here's a theatre tip for all readers from a straight man: read the book and skip the show.