LICK BUT DON'T SWALLOW!
nytheatre.com review by Stephen Kaliski
January 5, 2012
The engine of pornography is based in an unadorned cause-and-effect relationship: one explicit narrative to create one explicit reaction. Once its focus expands into larger emotional and political territory, it loses its efficient function. The dream of Burt Reynolds’ adult film mogul in Boogie Nights was to create porn that operated on human levels unbeknownst to porn. Which is to say, he wanted porn that wasn’t porn at all. That was the tragedy of the ambitious orgasm manufacturer.
The Turkish import Lick But Don’t Swallow, one of the more outwardly controversial entries in this year’s Under the Radar Festival, is a multimedia comedy about an angel sent to Earth in a porn star’s body. We gather that her mission is to invest an adult film shoot with the sociopolitical zest hitherto absent from pornographic mindsets. Why can’t a shot of clitoral stimulation be accompanied by a documentary voiceover of what’s wrong in the world?
It’s a potentially playful premise, especially when one considers how contemporary pornographic mentalities extend well beyond the erotic. We’ve become increasingly narrow and insular in our experience of the world, with the genres of our everyday lives rarely overlapping. Lick But Don’t Swallow uses an attention-getting conceit to address the necessity of zooming out, of thinking holistically in a society addicted to zeroing in.
Unfortunately, this brief and oddly timid play fails to execute. In its attempt to argue for broad-mindedness in an increasingly pornographic world, it uses artistic methods that are surprisingly lacking in imagination and commitment.
The play, written by Ozen Yula and directed by Turkish collaborative biriken, is described as “a hybrid of comedy, video, and existential inquiry.” It opens rather successfully on the latter end of this hybrid with a haunting, wistful video monologue from performer Ayca Damgaci, who is grappling with her new assignment to inhabit a porn star on a film shoot in Turkey. The “existential inquiry” here is potent and draws us into the dreamscape of Yula’s vision.
Once the angel arrives in Istanbul, however, the play shies away. This brand of comedy depends on the absurd distance between the banal routine of the porn shoot and the angel’s lofty, humanistic goals, but because the sex is timid (each act is a fully clothed caricature, and thus somehow more awkward than its explicit alternative) and the social agenda obvious, this distance isn’t maximized to its fullest effect.
The production also makes meek attempts at video projections and movement sequences. Aside from an intriguing projection of the angel’s celestial overseers—an image that suggests a B-sides album cover for U2’s The Joshua Tree—the video does not amplify the storytelling. The movement bits are equally confounding. One sequence, which involves newspapers rolled into phalluses that are then jammed into every imaginable orifice on stage, suggests a power play between genders but mostly feels sloppy and under-rehearsed.
Aside from Damgaci’s energetic performance, the cast seems tired and half a beat behind every cue. It makes for a convincing argument that in-your-face theater requires in-your-face commitment.
Lick But Don’t Swallow is memorable for its provocative concept, but the production itself, supposedly banned after a single performance in Turkey, seems afraid to honor the conviction of its message. Like the half act suggested in the title, the play is as noteworthy for what it doesn’t do as what it does.