nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 10, 2009
You can be a homosexual man but not like anal intercourse, and you can be a heterosexual man and really enjoy anal intercourse—as the receiver, I mean. Such is the crazy complexity of human sexuality and the utter foolhardiness of trying to put labels on it. This is the principal take-away idea of Peg-ass-us, the hour-long sex education performance piece created and performed by John Leo and Sophie Nimmannit, now playing at Dixon Place.
"Pegging is a sexual practice in which a woman penetrates a man's anus with a strap-on dildo." This definition comes from Wikipedia and is quoted in Peg-ass-us near its beginning. Pegging is not a word a lot of people probably use everyday and if the practice itself isn't necessarily taboo, it's unusual enough to cause great insecurity in straight men like John who have difficulty finding female partners who will understand and be willing to peg him. (The Wikipedia entry includes a surprisingly vivid illustration that is more graphic than anything that ultimately happens in the show, by the way.)
From his own anxieties came John Leo's desire to make this show. Nimmannit is his real-life girlfriend and collaborator. They are both very talented performers, each with a unique and specific physicality. The show is very meta and fourth-wall-breaking, spun around a narrative about its own creation and about the sex lives of Leo and Nimmannit. There's also a kind of sex-ed-lecture vibe to the piece, which leads to some audience participation segments.
What I liked most about Peg-ass-us is its earnest mission to liberate its creators and its audience from preconceptions and hangups about sexuality. Several segments of this loosely constructed show use outrageous puppets, masks, and props, and—in one memorable section—surprising postmodern burlesque to disarm the potency of prudery and prurience and help us relax our thinking about pegging and, by extension, other sexual practices that we may not have ever tried ourselves.
What worked less well for me is the narrative thread that runs through the piece, one that presents Leo as a timorous, screwed-up fellow who is guilt-ridden about his unorthodox sexual taste and Nimmannit as the loving, accepting free spirit who frees his inner "peg-ee." I found it tough to accept Leo as this character some of the time and as the creator and would-be educator behind this show the rest of the time; and the key that unlocked Leo's anxieties is never really explained or disclosed, so ultimately the plotline feels uncomfortable more than anything else.
The direction by Leslie Strongwater is forthright and unobtrusive. Peg-ass-us is not for every audience, but one hopes that folks who feel about their own sexual proclivities as Leo apparently once did about his will take the leap and catch this unusual, entertaining, and edifying performance.