Review: “Put My Finger In Your Mouth”

Slouching Toward the Theater of the Ridiculous

Put your Finger in my Mouth

The Right Brain Project presents

Put My Finger In Your Mouth
by Bob Fisher
Directed by Nathan Robbel
Runs thru August 29th (773.750.2033 for tickets)

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Is everything old new again? If Right Brain Project succeeds at anything with its production of Put My Finger In Your Mouth, a new play by Bob Fisher, it’s in evoking a nostalgic, psychedelic, Rocky Horror-like vibe.

Like so many before it, this production’s roots lay the work of New York transgender playwright Jackie Curtis, Andy Warhol film star and creator of The Theater of the Ridiculous. Always on the outside, always fringe, Curtis’s influence prevails to this day through shows like Annoyance Theatre’s Co-ed Prison Sluts or, my old favorites, Cannibal Cheerleaders On Crack or The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.

finger in my mouth Under Nathan Robbel’s direction, with a sound design that culls tunes from the 60s, 80s, and 00s, Put My Finger In Your Mouth is a much softer, gentler show intent on generating a dream world that its characters inhabit and pull the audience into, rather than shock or outrage it. But the audience can only receive minor moments of dreamlike satisfaction from themes that are worn, trite and underdeveloped.

The play is a club-kid fable about two sisters, Birdy (Erin Elizabeth Orr) and Turtle (Stacie Hauenstein) whose conflicts revolve around the competing claims of pleasure and security. Birdy wants to risk all for discovery and new experiences, while Turtle clings to a safe, co-dependent existence at home. The risks become greater for Birdy upon entry into the bizarre club world of the androgynous Snailman (Emily Mark), whose fingers secrete a hallucinogenic substance that enslaves all who taste it.

Orr and Hauenstein generate sympathy as the two sisters, but a script that repeats the risk vs. security theme ad nauseum hampers their performances. Sadly, Turtle’s hidden past is telegraphed so far in advance, it has no impact at all once finally revealed. The sultry androgyny of the Snailman and the hold s/he has on her willing minions, create the appropriate otherworldly space for Birdy to be ensnared in, but there is something to be aware of in the play’s limitations regarding gender identity difference.

How Victorian the play is in the portrayal of its leading transgender or intersex character as Other, dangerous, and suspect. Snailman still ends up being the coolest thing aroundit’s just disappointing that, once again, the clichéd dangers of gender transgression get a tired, unimaginative, and unthinking rehash here. Right Brain Project clearly wants to go beyond the predictable. More careful consideration or development of material before production would serve it well.

For all that, the cast certainly creates a “scene” with its performance. From time to time, glimmers of poetry strike up from the script. The Battle of the Furries that takes place in the nightclub finally achieves the psychedelic effect the play has been promising all the while. If one could exhort the playwright and the company to anything, it would be this: be bolder. Be even more right brain. Don’t hang back in the safe zone.

Rating: «½

 

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3 Responses

  1. Your assertion that the show is somehow Victorian in any way is completely absurd and misleading. You’ve thoroughly misused the term. The play neither hides sexuality nor does it condemn it. In your analysis, you seem to hint that the play is afraid of touching the “real” taboos, but you completely ignore mentioning the Boxman in your review. Is it Victorian that a drug dealing pornographer that lives in a box is the play’s wise sage?

    But, to be fair, you didn’t say that the play itself was Victorian.

    More specifically, you criticized the play’s Victorian attitude toward transsexuals. First of all, androgyny and transsexuality are two different things. David Bowie might be androgynous, but he’s not a transsexual. The Snailman is not a transsexual (i.e. he wasn’t born with one sex but identifies as a different gender). The Snailman is androgynous. But even if he were a transsexual, so what? What is sexually mysterious has always been appealing to some people. That’s not a cliche; that’s a fact. If the Snailman were played by a black man, would you say that the play was feeding into racist fears of the dark man stealing white girls away? Would you complain that he wasn’t black enough or too black or too aggressive or too passive? Actually, you might.

    Get off your high horse. The Snailman isn’t evil because he is androgynous. He’s evil because he’s evil. Do you honestly believe that the point of the play was to illustrate the dangers of mingling with transsexual snail people with magic powers? Of course not. And, while we are on the subject, what gender transgressions are you even talking about? It’s not as though the straight-laced sister says to Birdie, “I just found out that the guy you like is actually maybe a girl, and I think that’s gross.” But so what if she did? Do you, the reviewer, get to dictate what is politically correct for fictional characters to say and do?

    If you want to talk about plot points that’s fine, but just because an actor or a character is LGBTQI, that doesn’t mean the audience should expect them to defy convention or erase cliches. I’m not even sure what cliches were upheld in this production. In fact, I’m not even sure what the cliches are for androgynous people.

    The bad guys are always the Other, whether they’re male or white or female or gay or Asian or, yes, transsexual. That’s what bad guys are. They are the enemy. They are not us, because we are good. Not because we are white or straight or male, and they, the villains, aren’t. If James Bond films have taught us anything, it’s that bad guys can come in all shapes and sizes. Look at Grace Jones in “A View to a Kill” or Lotte Lenya in “From Russia with Love” and tell me they aren’t androgynous villains. But if you want it your way, just give all the roles to white guys and that way no one gets offended. Except for white males, of course. They might feel “transgressed.”

    I think your intentions are good, but the transsexual community doesn’t need you to come to the rescue.

    I agreed with almost everything else you said in the review. But Victorian? There was nothing Victorian about it.

  2. No doubt we shall have to agree to disagree on this point.

    As you have noted, I do not call the play Victorian, but the handling of the character of the Snailman.

    As any cultural critique of the representation of queer characters in literature, film, drama, and art will reveal, people who transgress along gender lines–and these can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, genderqueer, or transgendered characters–are often also depicted as dangerous, immoral, amoral, evil, suspect, or unstable. This representation occurs so frequently and predictably it is cliche. And cultural icons of this type range from the comic, like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to the deadly serious, like Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” where Satan is depicted androgynously.

    I cannot come to the rescue of the transgender community, even if they would want me to, and I do not speak for them. I merely point out a cliche in a production from a company that very much wants to be bold and daring. I, for one, completely appreciate their efforts, as much as I must, as a critic, point out the weak spots.

  3. Actually, I will concede that I failed to mention the Boxman in the original review. His dialogue is most replete with the “glimmers of poetry” that I brought up in the final paragraph. He is a fascinating character and Neal Tucker plays him with relish. My bad for not making specific mention of him. However, no fault of Neal’s, the advice he renders to Turtle for overcoming her personal terrors is not all that original or insightful. So, until the play undergoes more development, I cannot quite name Boxman as “wise sage,” as much as that may be the intention.

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