By Matt Murphy; Based on the best-selling book by Dan Anderson and Maggie Berman
Directed by Tim Drucker
Off Broadway, New Play
Open Ended Run
777 Theatre, 777 Eighth Avenue
by Seth Bogner on 2.9.14
Lindsay Nicole Chambers and Jason Michael Snow in SEX TIPS FOR STRAIGHT WOMEN FROM A GAY MAN. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
BOTTOM LINE: Bawdy sexual humor and man flesh abound in this new play based on the popular book of the same name.
I have a confession to make; I am terrified by audience interaction. The phobia probably took hold as most do, in junior high P.E. class where I was forced to participate in activities that I had not been properly trained for in front of an audience eager for a sight gag. What does a prematurely 6’2’’, slightly overweight, vaguely feminine, incredibly uncoordinated boy in the Midwest know about the pommel horse? Still this has not deterred me as an adult from subjecting myself to a whole manner of these panic-inducing theatrical events. It does not matter if they are set at an '80s prom, a large ethnic wedding, or a drag beauty pageant; the result is always the same. Never have I stared so hard at the floor as when Jason Michael Snow (doing his best Jack Plotnick impersonation) ran through the aisle of the 777 Theatre with a hand-held camera linked to an on-stage screen to film confused audience members masturbating their programs. The man seated next to me must have assumed that my Tourette’s was acting up when I started chanting, “please don’t talk me, please don’t talk to me,” as Snow, playing Dan Anderson author of the book Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man in this play of the same name, was in the audience choosing non-volunteers for his on stage histrionics.
The key here, and this is why these shows continue to be successful despite their artistic shortcomings, is that the audience members not singled out to join the actors on stage for whatever demeaning activity the author has cooked up are more than delighted to play spectator to their all-encompassing embarrassment. If you think I didn’t laugh just as hard as the rest of my class when Zack Phelps caught his foot on that hurdle and landed on his face during track and field week, then you are mistaken. Schadenfreude is real my friends and if you’re feeling especially mean-spirited, then Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man is the show for you (just don’t sit on the aisle).
The play takes place at a meet the authors forum in a lecture hall at Midtown Manhattan Community College. The plot, as much as there is one, revolves around an uptight professor (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) who may or may not have murdered the department chair in order to secure her spot as host of the event, knowing that it is with a sex help author, in hopes that he will help her seduce the venue’s technician (Andrew Brewer). I wish I could say that hilarity ensues, but save for a handful of one-liners and a few well-placed slides, the laughter from the audience sprang mostly from watching their fellow audience members being put through the ringer. Chambers, who is the best part of the web series Submissions Only, seems out of place in such a broadly comedic environment. Brewer gamely does what is required of him playing a vapid wannabe astronaut turned stripper. The few moments of sincerity are achieved by Snow, who despite having the most conspicuously “funny” role, manages to give Dan a sense of humility and even achieves a few moments of genuine pathos.
What stand out most here are the production values. The unit set designed by Luke Cantarella at first glance seems like a realistic representation of a standard lecture hall, yet holds a number of ingenious surprises. Property designer Alanna Maniscalco had her work cut out for her and the results are often quite humorous, even when the use of them is not. The other elements are no less impressive with costume design by Tilly Grimes, lighting design by Brian Tovar, and sound design by Randy Blair. The flashier components lend a sense of fantasy to the proceedings that, although welcome and well crafted, are unfortunately not supported by the script or Tim Drucker’s direction.
As far as the educational aspects of the play are concerned, I am not the target audience for this knowledge and I feel it out of my jurisdiction to comment on whether or not the tips (I believe there are seven, which feels like five thousand) are actually of any use. What I can say with authority is that it is not 1997, the era before Sex and the City came along and made it virtually impossible going forward to say or do anything sexual that is remotely surprising or titillating. We’ve heard it all before, and though the argument could be made that there is novelty in having it come from a gay man and not another woman, Stanford Blatch would beg to differ.
(Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man plays at The 777 Theatre, 777 Eighth Avenue. Performances are Mondays at 8PM; Tuesdays at 7PM; Thursdays at 8PM; Fridays at 7PM and 10PM; Saturdays 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 7PM. Tickets are $49.69 - $99.69 and are available at ovationtix.com or by calling 866-811-4111.)