Spectravagasm’s ‘Gender-gasm’ goes all the way

The sixth installment of Post5's frankly undersung late night sketch series "offends everyone equally," and amuses ArtsWatch a lot.

It’s a small, special club of people who’ve had the pleasure of witnessing all six of Post5 Theatre’s Spectravagasms, a series of sketch shows tackling various themes (horror, the future, religion, etc.) devised by wily buffoon Sam Dinkowitz and a small, brilliant team of other clowners-around. Too small, really. The work that obviously goes into these smartly written, tightly timed shows continues to be less than halfway met by potential audiences not bothering to venture all the way “out” to Post5, or those already on site for an earlier show who decide not to stay. Their loss! Why buy an evening of theater and not go for the ‘gasm?

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The current installment, Gendergasm, is onstage through Valentine’s Day in the late-night time slot following Woman on The Scarlet Beast and Gender Tree, and takes its thematic cue from the latter. In addition to Dinkowitz, the players are Nicole Accuardi, Chip Sherman, Brett Wilson and Rebecca Ridenour. Fast-paced, unpredictable and sometimes literally winking, it’s one of those rare satires that you could reasonably call a “romp.” And it’s faaaabulous, Bitches!

Oh. Wait. Sorry. I didn’t mean to call you “Bitches.”

I’ll leave that to Dinkowitz’s emcee character, Esperanza, an insouciant bearded chica in a red dress and heels whose catchphrase is “Hola, Beetches!” But this brings up a good point: if you’re offended by derogatory slang and incessant innuendo, or hold up gender and sexuality politics as sacrosanct from comedy, read no further and stay home from this show. Because Esperanza calling you “Beetches” is just the beginning.

Esperanza was a series mainstay before Gendergasm, an the character’s deal has never been fully explained ’til now. Spoiler: she’s a pansexual hermaphrodite and she loves everybody (and leverages her universal appeal to help fill the donation basket). Obviously, a straight guy in a dress is a humor trope, and Dink’s schtick has stood out as prior shows’ least sophisticated bit. But in this context, the potential minefield of the gender-scape, Dinkowitz knew he had to address it. “I had some thoughts before this about her origin/orientation,” he explains. “Of course, I’m also exploring my own desires to wear a dress. And the heels were always an act of empathy, y’know? But she definitely became more important for this.” Fair enough, Sir. You’re off the frat-boy hook for now…

Gendergasm wriggles off said hook often, just barely evading low comedy by the skin of a thin white tee. Though the characters’ lines are shockingly crass, the premises are provocative enough to save them. “This one was harder to write than I figured,” Dinkowitz concedes. “Gender discussions can get very murky. In this town, it’s especially volatile, and I feel like a bull in a china shop.” To make matters worse, Dinkowitz adds, one company member had to bow out two days before opening. “Even after I tried to make it three guys three girls…that plan kinda fell apart.”

Dink is right to rely on the Spectravagasm ensemble—a dream team with a mix of genders, ethnicities and sexualities—to help balance the show. The versatile Ridenour, who also plays in Gender Tree, nicely dovetails the two shows together, Sherman struts his signature stuff, Accuardi serves attitude, Wilson exudes energy, and Dinkowitz gleefully runs the gender gamut from hyperfemme Esperanza to a proto-butch modern cave man. Even so, the intended third woman and sixth cast member, Jessica Anselmo, is keenly missed. In each prior ‘gasm, she’s been a standout, with a unique mix of sparkle and scrappiness that suggests a Broadway kid gone bad. This round, her appearance in the pre-shot video interludes between scenes feels like a tease.

Wait. Should I use the word “tease?” Or does that seem to reinforce the backward and dangerous notion that enticement unsubstantiated by access is a form of cruelty? See…these politics are everywhere. Dink?

“Well the overall rule for all ‘gasms is to try to offend everyone equally. It’s important to recognize the ridiculousness of fanatics on either end of a spectrum. A scene MUST invite you to laugh at yourself, but it CAN’T isolate any particular group. But of course I’ve already gotten some emails about offensive stuff in this show….Can’t please ’em all.”

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To me, long streams of earnest PC parlance have never been funny.  Sometimes carefully chosen words can promote a better understanding, sure…but other times they can obscure or distance the real issues. Regardless, they are never funny. Crass and wacky exclamations, on the other hand, often are, triggering belly laughs and spit takes, and giving us some much-needed distance from the outspoken arguers we may have encountered in real life. But getting offended by a comprehensively offensive (and hence hilarious) show seems an all-or-nothing proposition. How could you possibly pick just a few things?

“It’s crazy though….we say ‘c-nt’ and Chip calls Brett a ‘little f-ggot,’ but one person looked past all that and went for ‘retard’…I told her that I wasn’t going to change anything, and that she should examine why she finds some offensive things acceptable, and some not.”

Even the show’s stage manager, who appears on video in Gender Tree declaring a preference to avoid pronouns, has had to reiterate that stance for Dinkowitz, alerting him after his curtain speech referenced the “lady” in the booth that “person” was preferred.

“Life imitating art!” Dinkowitz declares, respecting his SM as the expert there.

Pronouns are still terra incognita for many proponents of gender and sexual identity equality, and remain the place where inadvertent offense is easiest. A lot of well-meaners may slip a non-preferred pronoun on someone by accident…but I’ve also heard pronouns spat in a tone intended to wound. Meaning well will generally buy you some lenience as you adjust your habits.

Whether performing a lived role (“the straight white male”) or a role reversal (the catcalling businesswoman; the “pray-the-straight-away” gay reformer), this ensemble at least knows what it’s acting about. “I think it’s important that, for the most part, each participant in this ‘gasm comes from a place of authority or personal experience on the topics they’re poking fun at. It’s hard to live in 2015 and not have some gender issue experience to draw from.”

Indeed. Gender opinions are, as the saying goes, like a–holes: all different, and we’ve all got ’em. And Spectravagasm‘s unique ways of depicting that are definitely good for a laugh.

 

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