Written and performed by Alicia Dattner; Directed by Tom Bentley-Fisher
Produced by Blue Panther
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 4.17.16
The Bridge@Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 4.7.16
Alicia Dattner in The Oy of Sex. Photo by Samantha Bednarz.
BOTTOM LINE: A stand-up comedy routine, presented as a piece of theatre, about the embarrassing sexual situations in which we find ourselves when looking for love and fulfillment.
How would you like to stand up in front of an audience of strangers and relay your most intimate and mortifying sexual experiences? This is precisely the torture that stand-up comic Alicia Dattner puts herself through for our comedic enjoyment in her solo show, The Oy of Sex. Oy is right!
The show opens with a question. “Can we be real with each other? Can we lay everything out on the table? Okay, you go first.” It’s a great opening for a stand-up comedy act. The laugh is inevitable and gives the audience a chance to acknowledge and hopefully abandon its nervous tension.
What’s really intriguing about this show, however, is that it’s a stand-up routine performed in a theater. Theatre is more demanding of both audience and performer. In a comedy club, the job of the performer is to make us laugh; our job as the audience is to laugh and indulge a two-drink minimum. The theatre, however, plays by different rules. Rather than inviting us to laugh ourselves silly in a drunken stupor, theatre amuses us thoughtfully and makes us aware of what a messy business it is to be a human being. Theatre wants us to enjoy and appreciate how awkward and embarrassing life can be. Ultimately, laughter culminates in compassion rather than a mindless hangover. While the theatre is more demanding, it is also considerably gentler and kinder than a comedy club. Like a loving parent who wants us to realize our full potential, theatre requires us to be as good and honest as we know how to be. It roots for us to succeed, where the comedy club dares us to with skepticism.
Dattner’s act is thoughtful, hilarious, and very brave. She offers up intimate detail from her sexual resume, and reveals secrets of her desires, flaws and insecurities. That takes guts, and I admire Dattner her courage. Her sexual anecdotes don’t just amount to cheap one-liners and punchlines. Her act drives home a touching and beautiful message: to love and appreciate people because of their fears and insecurities. Amen.
But Dattner often forgets that on this particular occasion, she’s working in a theatre instead of a comedy club. We're not here just to laugh at her jokes, but to appreciate and acknowledge what it means to be a vulnerable human being mustering the courage to fight through embarrassment. That’s a beautiful sight worthy of the stage. Dattner stops just short of allowing herself to be that vulnerable. When her jokes don’t land, she apologizes for them. She is masked by the armor of a performer—an energetic shield that drowns out embarrassment and insecurity and obscures vulnerability. In the theatre, we want to see the truth, rather than the act. She need not apologize for jokes that don’t land. Instead of masking those uncomfortable moments with showmanship, I would have liked to see Dattner lay them bare. This approach would have made for a more satisfying show, while staying totally consistent with her message.
The Oy of Sex has plenty of funny moments to go around. I’m sure it’s a very successful show in a comedy club. But in a theater, it has the potential to be more than just a funny comedy show.
(The Oy of Sex plays at The Bridge@Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street, through April 17, 2016. The running time is 70 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Wednesday thru Saturdays at 8; Sundays at 2 and 7. Tickets are $20 and are available at theoyofsex.com or by calling 212-868-4444.)
The Oy of Sex is written and performed by Alicia Dattner. Directed by Tom Bentley-Fisher. Choreography is by Name. Lighting Design is by Duane Pagano. Stage Manager is Zac Goin.