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Trying

Sex*But

By New York City
Jack Ferver, Andersen Gabrych, Jenn HarrisJonathan Lisecki, and Matthew Wilkas in Sex*But(Photo © R. Lasko)
Jack Ferver, Andersen Gabrych, Jenn Harris
Jonathan Lisecki, and Matthew Wilkas in Sex*But
(Photo © R. Lasko)
For many young gay men growing up in the 1970s and '80s, the first glimpse into gay life was found in the bestselling sex education manual, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask. Written by Dr. David Reuben, a psychiatrist, the book was published in 1969 -- four years before the American Psychiatric Association voted to delete homosexuality from its list of disorders. Reuben's work paints a dismal portrait of the lives led by gay men, underscoring how their sexuality is an illness and that they are destined to be sad and lonely. Director Erik Sniedze has taken that now infamous chapter on male homosexuality and turned it into a unique and hilarious show, Sex*But, that uses Reuben's words verbatim but "queers" it through a less than serious interpretation of the text.

Presented as a staged reading, the show features five male actors -- Jack Ferver, Andersen Gabrych, Jonathan Lisecki, Jonny McGovern, and Matthew Wilkas -- and one female, Jenn Harris. Like the book, Sex*But utilizes a question and answer format. Harris presides over the action, reading aloud the different questions, such as "What do homosexuals really do with each other?" and "Why do so many homosexual expressions refer to food?" She also provides "friend of the director's commentary" that enlivens the show with amusing anecdotes inspired by some of Reuben's questions and answers, as well as bizarre non-sequiturs that seem to have no relation to what's being said. While some of these remarks could stand to be trimmed down, Harris does tell some very funny stories; my favorite is the one about her and Wilkas finding an artificial vagina in the street.

The five men read Reuben's responses to the questions, their facial expressions and vocal intonations providing an amusing commentary on the words they speak. Lisecki is particularly droll, but each actor has his moment to shine. They gleefully relate Reuben's stories about men whose lovers shove shot glasses and flashlights up their rear ends, and they campily reinterpret the intentions behind the author's supposedly sage pronouncements on the perils of homosexuality. It's obvious that all of the cast members are having a good time on stage, and no effort is made to hide their individual reactions to the other actors' readings.

Since the Q&A format can get a bit monotonous, Sniedze throws in a gratuitous underwear fashion show and a dance break, choreographed by Ferver. However, most of the performers do not seem to be great dancers, so the sequence is not as fun and energetic as it could be. Additionally, there are a few half-hearted attempts to stage sections of Reuben's chapter; I would love to see these sequences further developed.

The production makes it easy to laugh at Reuben's conceptions of homosexuality, but it's important to remember how damaging his book was to those who encountered it at a young and impressionable age. (Lesbians, by the way, do not get their own chapter in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask; instead, they are discussed in the section on prostitution.) Sex*But is a funny, irreverent commentary on how much attitudes towards homosexuality have changed over the past several decades, and it offers a kind of sexual education that Reuben surely did not intend.


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