Review - Chlamydia Dell'Arte: A Sex Ed Burlesque & The Broadway Musicals of 1975
The admirable mission of Gigi Naglak and MeghAnn Williams, writer/performers of Chlamydia Dell'Arte: A Sex Ed Burlesque, is to remove some of the awkwardness in open discussions about human sexuality by treating intimate issues with humor. Their modestly produced show, which just completed a week-long run at Los Kabayitos, is obviously built to travel, coming to Gotham via stints in Philly and DC, and the amiable pair pulls off their mission with endearing enthusiasm.
Twelve quick vignettes - sketches, songs and dance pieces - alternate with video segments of the two as stuffy schoolteachers and others of a group of women individually responding to questions addressing topics like their definition of sex, how they learned about sex and how they, as adults, have taught their children about sex.
With no director or choreographer credited, I would assumed that Naglak and Williams managed those task themselves, and perhaps the show would best be viewed as a promising work in progress that could use further guidance.
Much of their humor is of the sophomoric, one-joke variety. Naglak dances as a ballerina clad in white, who expresses joy and relief when her period visibly arrives. The two of them play cooking show hosts who, after a few too many glasses of wine, start demonstrating on a dildo their favorite way to eat chocolate frosting. Naglak, standing behind an artificial lower torso, discusses birth control options with her talking vagina. Sketches of this nature might seem a little crass coming from men, but perhaps women might find these lowbrow depths refreshing coming from other women.
But lowbrow is actually highbrow in another sketch where they play out Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene as two horny adolescents masturbating, a concept that makes complete sense when you figure that Shakespeare's youthful lovers are more realistically a couple of kids who barely know each other at the beginnings of their sexual awareness. Another clever sketch begins with a slideshow detailing important information about STDs which is upstaged when the two start performing a strip-tease down to pasties and g-strings; a smart comment on how thoughts of sexual health get shoved to the side when encountering titillation.
Other vignettes include Williams' monologue about a woman's obsession with being perfectly shaved for a date, a song explaining the difference between transsexuals and transvestites and a fan dance performed by Naglak. Most were pleasant, but lacking in comedic sharpness beyond their initial ideas.
There was a talkback after the performances I attended, where Naglak and Williams chatted about their experiences regarding sex education and of the evolution of their show. Speaking off-the-cuff, their remarks were far more interesting and humorous than most of the material they performed. If the pair can inject the evening with more of the honest, realistic humor displayed in the talkback, Chlamydia Dell'Arte could prove more worthy of its admirable intentions.
Photo of Gigi Naglak and MeghAnn Williams by Lauren Schwarz.
Broadway musicals were in a crazy state of flux by 1975. That newfangled idea of attracting new audiences through well-produced television commercials was turning shows that might not have lasted long through traditional publicity into multi-year running hits (That year The Wiz was rescued from a quick closing by its commercial.), but the new audiences attending those shows were venturing into a theatre district overflowing with porno houses, hookers and three-card monte con artists. Those in the know knew it was dangerous to hang around Times Square after the shows let out, but good luck riding the subways at night.
Two of musical theatre's most notable director/choreographers helmed their greatest achievements, though Michael Bennett's optimistic salute to the unknowns who chase their dreams, A Chorus Line, was stealing headlines from Bob Fosse's first post-heart attack creation, the comically cynical Chicago. Rock composers were trying to replicate the success of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, but The Rocky Horror Show failed to find an audience and theatre-goers preferred Shenandoah, a traditional book musical with an anti-war message, over The Lieutenant, a rock opera about the My Lai massacre that lasted a week on Broadway but was admired enough to pick up Tony nominations for its book and score. Goodtime Charley tried to replicate the success of Pippin with its stylistic telling of the story of Joan of Arc, but the decision to focus on the less interesting character, the dauphin Charles, doomed the effort of an attractive and clever Grossman and Hackady score.