ACTING UP

04.02.14

Sex Blogs on Stage: Theater From the Absurd

For the past three years Blogologues has been transforming online posts, rants, and queries into a live-action variety show. Their latest production, focused specifically on the fringiest sexual communities, combined pointed jokes with respect and empathy for the posters themselves.

As I left the sketch variety show Blogologues: Dat A.S.S, I was singing, perhaps a little too loudly, one of the standout songs of the evening, about those adults who love My Little Ponies, “Bronies who love ponies, both sexually and non-sexually.”

You wouldn’t expect the title of a Bronie online forum thread to become a simultaneously hysterical and infectious rap, nor would you expect that women dressed as pink, purple, and blue ponies could pull off gyrating while nibbling on carrots. But such was the hilarious, energetic finale to Blogologues: Dat A.S.S.

While reading tweets and online comments are now becoming a source of late-night comedy fodder for Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, Blogologues manages to build a full-throated theater experience through them. Allison Golderg and Jen Jamula conceived the show three years ago. The A.S.S. in Dat A.S.S. stands for Annual Sex Show, but this production of Blogologues is actually their 16th edition. Like the previous productions, the show follow their rule of never adding or rewriting the posts, only editing for length and sticking with the original words, be it from the screenshot of a text, and OkCupid profile.

I was highly skeptical walking into see the show, which is currently playing weekends at the Celebration Of Whimsy theater on Manhattan’s Lower East Side through April 12. If there wasn’t the promise of a gift bag from Babeland—the contents of which I will not discuss publicly—there is a strong chance I may not have shown up.

It’s not that I wasn’t intrigued to see a sketch variety show based around dating and sex that scoured the internet, pulling from Facebook, Wiki Answers, TextsFromLastNight, and an assortment of Tumblrs and websites I never even knew existed. But I pictured a near-empty black box theater that, considering the untraditional material sources, would be a form of preachy performance art rather than something genuinely entertaining. Worse, I feared the show would be mean-spirited, taking many low and easy swings at the horny, alienated, and vulnerable people whose online rants and pleas become fodder for comedy.

But this a great, intelligent, funny show. The five cast members— Goldberg and Jamula along with Wendy Joy, Adam Levinthal, and Gary Berard—opened the show with a dance that was hyper-sexual to the point of ridiculousness. It was the first taste of show’s very physical humor.

“Anybody can be the playwright in this game. We love casting different voices that never would have been heard.”

The set of Blogologues: Dat A.S.S. was quite sparse, rarely using more than some chairs, a few props, and a projection screen with the title of the blog post, website, and whoever sent it to them (they solicit entries on Twitter). That means a lot is demanded of the cast to build context and energy through strong physical performances, specifically by playing loudly and filling up the room.

One of the first sketches was built from exchanges on tinderlove.tumblr.com, which posts screenshots of a man’s incredibly awkward exchanges with women via the dating app Tinder. Some of his pickup lines are so exaggeratedly cheesy—”Got any Coumadin? Cause my blood is a pumpin!”—that you have to think that this dude is purposefully messing with people.

But Blogologues: Dat A.S.S. gives him the benefit of the doubt, depicting him not as a creep, but as a sympathetically anxious, nasal, nebbishy guy, brilliantly portrayed by Jamula. As a result, we’re suddenly rooting for this 21st Century version of Steve Urkel to find love. After rejection on top of rejection, the final exchange of the sketch ends on a high note exchange with a girl who is just as geeky and cheesy as he is.

Goldberg and Jamula say that when the cast tries coming up with the voices behind these anonymous posts, they try to create characters that are empathetic, rather than ones that are easy to mock. “From a theater background perspective it’s important to have sympathetic characters you’re your audience can relate to. Otherwise, why would they watch?” says Goldberg. “We try to take it really sincerely and play against the text, and we try to steer clear of anything that might be mean.”

They invite the authors of the posts to the show, even if they can only attempt to reach them through posting comments. Jamula says it’s always important that “we hold ourselves accountable” and create sketches with the assumption the authors could be in the audience. It is charmingly ironic that a show built off of the words exchanged in an anonymous environment—an environment that makes it exceptionally easy to skewer and alienate those who show emotionally vulnerability—is so committed to humanizing the nameless, faceless voices behind these blogs.

I am pretty certain that the sketch based around a question posted on Wiki Answers—“What does a female orgasm sound like?”—resonates closely with any woman who grow up playing with Barbie dolls. Sure, you could imagine that some skeevy guy would post that question to get his rocks off. Or you could imagine a girl playing with her Barbie and Ken dolls and banging them together forcefully enough that it is clear she really does not know why grown-ups seem to enjoy having sex (and, yes, we almost all used our Barbies to create elaborate sex scenes). Played with just the right amount of innocence, confusion, and curiosity by Goldberg, the sketchy question takes on new meaning when imagined as coming from a girl just trying to figure out how this whole sex thing works.

The physical comedy of the group came through strongest in one of my favorite sketches, which was based on the Facebook posts of Parents Against Weird Sex (P.A.W.S.). A group dedicated to ensuring young adults never engage in “nefarious acts” like the “Cleveland steamer” and “reverse cowgirl” clearly offers a rich seam of possible laughs. Blogologues:Dat A.S.S. maximized this comedic potential by having the group’s mission statement recited by a Midwestern couple, with the mom (Joy) clad in a knit poncho and the dad (Levinthal) in a Rick Santorum sweater vest lecturing their daughter’s prom date (Berard). True to the text of the Facebook group, the prom date never interrupts the parents’ rant against “weird sex,” but his facial expressions convey his horror, especially as the parents proceed to stretch and act out the forbidden positions while the Rocky theme plays in the background.

Goldberg and Jamula talked about how the posts they find are often in the style of a rant and tend not to have a plot arc, as you would expect for a play or any drama. This is one of the challenges of transforming blogs into live-action theater, and it is why they say they will “play against the text,” trying out three or four different scenarios or voices for a blog before selecting one for the show.

Much like the internet though, the joy working with blogs is that different voices and often under-represented populations suddenly have a voice and exposure. It might seem odd that blogs and new technology are being used so directly to create theater. But, says Jamula, “Anybody can be the playwright in this game. We love casting different voices that never would have been heard. Theater was traditionally meant to reflect what’s going on in society. And I think this is going back to some roots.”