Sexual Perversity in Manhattan

While I am far past the days of making performance art about my own predilections, predations and perversities, I will still on occasion watch others do it. Personally, I just burned out on living my private life in public. When you’re open about non-traditional sexuality it is easy for others to demonize and vilify you, or to spread  libelous and malicious rumors. So I applaud people who are willing to explore these issues in a performance context and risk cennsure and ridicule. Yet I’m wary of the results, as these efforts are often overly earnest and less-than-artful.

After multiple solicitations I went to go see Pack of OthersPeg-Ass-Us as part of the HOT Festival at Dixon Place (sometimes known as DP). The description of the show was “A tale of boy-meets-girl, but the whole involves much more than the sum of their parts! In a no-holes-barred sexploration of ‘pegging,’ these lovers sing, dance and tease along the delicious line between fetish/preference, queer/straight, wrong and oh-so right…” which is pretty much what it delivered.

In the show Sophie Nimmannit and John Leo present a lighthearted and entertaining story of their relationship which has a few kinks in it – mainly that John likes to get pegged. Over the course of the evening they discuss the logistics of pegging, John’s sexual history and his discovery of his fetish, and various lessons in biology, anatomy, mythology and dancing. I think there was dancing. There was definitely music, burlesque, puppetry and audience participation. Oh and nudity. Full-frontal, both genders. It was a fun show and managed to treat some pretty uncomfortable topics lightly and humorously.

That being said – I felt that while they TOLD a lot of information, they didn’t necessarily reveal what is going on underneath. They briefly talked about John’s background but very little about Sophie’s and spent even less time discussing the interior worlds that accompany the sexual experience. I understand that it is a story of a relationship and kind of a funny Sex Ed lecture/demo gone awry – but I wanted it to be fictionalized and more narrative somehow, to have an arc, to trace the evolution from ignorance to puzzlement to awareness to action; whether it is coming out as a gay or realizing ones unconventional predilections, the process of discovery is usually gradual and moves through phases. I think that journey could serve as the architecture of the piece and the other bits could come off of there – it is more interesting to follow someone’s path to self-knowledge than learn about the mechanics of a sex act.

Also, at one point they talked about meeting each other and how they both were glad to find someone to “explore” with, not on the internet. I think that is a really interesting story as well, something I would have liked to have seen enacted, not just described. How do people negotiate intimacy? How do people set boundaries? How do we reveal our secrets to each other and what does it mean to find someone who will accept you despite, or perhaps even celebrate you for, your eccentricities?

So, its a fun show with attractive performers – both of whom are gifted clowns and physical theater artists – but I think they could do more with the material at hand.

On the opposite end of the perversity spectrum is James Carter’s Feeder: A Love Story as part of Collective:Unconscious‘s undergroundzero festival. Feeder tells the story of Jesse, an overweight woman, and Noel, her lover.  Noel is a feeder, Jesse is a gainer. That is exactly what you think it is. Noel is an aspiring dominant with a fetish for morbidly obese women and Jesse is a heavy-set submissive who likes to be taken care of. Noel feeds Jesse and she gains weight, lots of it. I don’t want to give anything away but let’s just say things get out of hand. Their love is predicated on this extreme relationship and it works both as metaphor and as fetish. Jennifer Conley Darling gives a powerful and nuanced performance as Jesse and Kevin Cristaldi is sympathetic and convincing as Noel.

While the show is a little uneven I have to give the writer, director and actors credit for making this creepy and somewhat implausible fetish completely real and believable. It is a really fucked-up play about some seriously fucked-up people. But underneath their dysfunction there is something resembling a need for love; there are real human impulses behind it and I found myself simultaneously amused, horrified and saddened by the events onstage.

As I said, I think it is risky to explore weird sex stuff in a theater, but I think Feeder does it in a thoughtful way – not just talking about the perversity of the fetish, but exploring the emotional undercurrents and power dynamics. There’s no nudity, no sex, not even any profanity, and yet it is unsettling and a little shocking. It is not experimental – it is definitely a play play – but it was fun to see a well-made conventional play take on such unconventional material.

And on a completely different but somewhat related note, my friend Rachel has a book on spanking coming out:

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