Let’s get it out of the way — if the title Flaccid Penis Seeks Vaginal Dryness offends you the rest of the play probably will too although, as the play itself points out, it isn’t any racier than what a Google search with a poor choice of words will produce. In fact, there’s nothing particularly vulgar about Flaccid Penis Seeks Vaginal Dryness, one of the many performances being showcased during the 15th Annual New York International Fringe Festival, so the title (which, in full disclosure, I love) could unfortunately mislead those who really would like the play, which actually is a very current, very funny narrative about the effects that social networking has on human relationships, particularly those which are, shall I say, fall outside the sexual mainstream.
Think about it: in the “faceless” as you want to be world of the internet one can anonymously confess or pursue any “offbeat” or “dysfunctional” habits, sexual or otherwise, without fear of public prejudice. That’s not a luxury that previous generations had and, as Flaccid Penis Seeks Vaginal Dryness argues, it’s one that the current generation has yet to take full advantage of as sites like Facebook seem to be used more for positing drunk pictures, making “friends” with people you barely know, and playing games like Farmville than meaningful interaction. Have computers, the ultimate communication tool, actually hindered our ability to socialize? That’s the story the play tells as a frustrated, thirty-year old virgin “QuietDan” (Sloan Bradford) reaches the titular offbeat “sexual dysfunction” message board by an inadvertent Google search on a lonely Friday night. The characters posting on the website treat the internet message board as the hybrid modern confessional and advice seeking resources that such sites have become, including the ever-present annoying spam and sex chat and penis enlargement pop-up ads. The play questions if society is truly in a tolerant, comfortable place if the only realm one can be completely honest is anonymously through a computer “talking” to people one doesn’t know.
The various sexual dysfunction the play deals with frankly, shockingly, and in most instances with humorous affection, are excellently portrayed by the ensemble cast, most of whom portray multiple characters. Websites such as Facebook, Google, and yes, even the pornographic ones, come alive with the actors personifying what we find so endearing and annoying about them (actor John Wu captures the annoying peppiness that we imagine Facebook would actually be if it were a living, breathing entity). Those of you who spend far too much time on Facebook will find plenty to laugh at, even if you’re unintentionally laughing at your own online behavior.
While there is no denying that Flaccid Penis Seeks Vaginal Dryness is a comedy, there are several episodes that are poignant. In particular, one of Lori Gardner’s many roles is perhaps the most multidimensional character in the play, a nymphomaniac mother who is torn between her sexual urges and her desires to be a good wife and mother. Other sympathetic characters are those with homosexual “dysfunctions.” These episodes tend to forgo the absurdity of the other episodes in favor of striking back at self-righteous bigotry (though in all fairness this is a comedy, so the author understandably doesn’t make much of an effort to give the bigots a legitimate chance so we can get to the humorous rebuttal). Perhaps the only point in which the play loses steam is toward the finale, when it tries a similar poignant approach with two men who confess to being attracted to children. As arguably the sexual dysfunction that society is least tolerant of it understandably has a place in a play all about sexual dysfunctions, yet because it is a subject that does not lend itself to humor — nor likely much sympathy — it’s an uncomfortable moment that halts the comedy of the play after an hour of laughs. The comedy thankfully returns in the following episodes.
It’s nearly impossible to single out a particularly actor’s performance since nearly all contribute multiple roles to showcase their talented ranges, which speaks not only to their individual abilities but also to the strength of the material. Writer Mike Poblete deals with the subject matter in a way that is neither crass or sophomoric, and that is an accomplishment worth applauding in itself. It’s likely a combination of Poblete’s script and Rebecca Hengstenberg’s direction that leads to the amiable nature of the entire cast, who all seem to be having so much fun together on stage that it’s impossible for the audience to not catch those positive vibes. In addition, the production crew also deserves a salute because of the technical wizardry that the web-browsing play requires.
Flaccid Penis Seeks Vaginal Dryness raises some fascinating questions about the impact social networking has had on our sexual well-being, both public and private, and since it wouldn’t be possible to provide any definite answers it instead explores possibilities with the same type of humor we use to confront all such topics that society is uncomfortable with. Much like how comedy has been a venue to expose and confront racism in the past, Flaccid Penis Seeks Vaginal Dryness succeeds with a similar approach to the politics of sexuality. It’s definitely a play that anyone of the Facebook generation will connect with, so if that sounds like you check out the play’s website here.
Flaccid Penis Seeks Vaginal Dryness will be performed on Thursday, August 25 (9:00 PM) at DIXON PLACE at 161A Chrystie Street as part of the 15th Annual New York International Fringe Festival.