Photo by Jeremy Shaffer.
The how-to book Sex Tips for Straight Women from A Gay Man by Dan Anderson and Maggie Berman was a 1997 instant best seller. Salon.com’s Courtney Weaver called it a “cannily entertaining romp through the nuts and bolts of sex from the male perspective.” This cult classic served as source material for a stage production of the same name. I saw the 3-character, audience-participatory show Friday night at the Ordway’s new Concert Hall in St. Paul.
Sex Tips is a romantic comedy that takes the audience on a hilarious and wild ride where no topic is taboo and the insider “tips” come straight from the source: a gay man. The play is set at a local university auditorium where the English department holds its monthly meet-and-greet authors event. Robyn is the shy and studious moderator of the event and this month’s featured author is Dan Anderson of Sex Tips for Straight Women from A Gay Man. With the help of a hunky stage assistant named Stefan, Dan aims to turn this meet the authors event upside down with a highly theatrical, audience interactive, sex tip seminar.
More fun than a bridal party and far less queer than Tank Night at the Saloon, Sex Tips is exactly what you *thought* having a Gay Best Friend would be like when you’re a 14-year-old white girl watching Will and Grace in your basement: fun, fashion-forward, sexually educational and witty as all hell. The show didn’t play to a “Yasss Queen” crowd, but the (mostly older) audience seemed to have a great time hearing the word “taint” and employing proper hand job technique on our rolled up programs posturing as everyone’s favorite love muscle.
I always worry about audience participatory shows. I feel anxiety for the actors knowing they’re going to have to steer a ship through a sea of Pinot-tipsy older white women who don’t know what heckling is. But Lead actor, Grant MacDermott killed it: like a super flamboyant ringmaster— deftly in control: his off-the-cuff improv and crowd work was astutely smart and hilarious. His consistently quick wit and careening of the audience was honestly my favorite part of the show.
Jacklyn Collier plays Robyn, the bookish moderator and Dan’s sometimes-eager, sometimes uneager student / guinea-pig / supporting straight-man. Her character in no way passes the Bechdel Test, but I admire the stamina required to run around that stage in 4-inch heels and a mini-dress. Though Robyn’s character arch is tropish (will she let loose and bag the hottie assistant, Stefan?!), she does the Duckling-to-Swan emergence flawlessly and with a lot of charm and exuberance.
Brooks Christopher plays said hottie, Stefan. I’m never going to be mad at a hunky character who aspires to be a Scientist and walks around wielding an allegorical, phallic confetti gun, but I wanted him on stage more. He didn’t have a ton of illuminating dialogue, but the moonwalk strip tease he did at the end spoke volumes.
There were some structural, narrative, weak points. Scenes progressed and transitioned with a chapter-like quality akin to the book. The stilted romantic comedy plot line between Robyn and Stefan came in and out of focus, but it’s all forgiven because there were expert lessons on nipple twisting…and that’s what we all signed up for.
All in all, does this stage adaptation make me want to read the source material book from 1997? Nah. But Grant MacDermott’s wit, charm, crowd work and the soundscape full of Britney, Righteous Brothers, Ginuwine alone made me make me want to drink tequila shots out of a penis-shaped plastic shooter and go twist some nips. So: success.
Take your Queer Eye for the Straight Guy-loving mother-in-law after a bottle of wine and you’ll have a blast.