“Do you want to be a participant or a voyeur?”
“Voyeur,” I responded within seconds.
My go-to is usually to watch — I’m more of a Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window type than a leading lady. Besides, what can you really expect from a show that suggests you “clean your sheets before coming?”
I was on my way to see Never Sleep Alone, a half-hookup show, half-musical act run by Dr. Alex Schiller, a bawdy and thoroughly indecent sex therapist — a character created by performer Roslyn Hart.
As I entered into Joe’s Pub and was seated at a small table in the back, it soon became obvious that I was underdressed, or rather, overfabric-ed compared to the rest of the women entering the theater. Women in mini-skirts, stilettos, even an outfit that would be best described as cavewoman-chic filtered through the room, cocktail in hand. I was accompanied by a good friend, my plus-one for the evening, who whispered in my ear, “Ten bucks says everyone here is on Molly.” I grinned.
We were suddenly approached by a comely woman who had a Sarah Silverman-esque air about her. Same hair, same knowing eyes.
“How are you doing tonight?” She asked. “Um, good,” I replied, uncertain of where this was leading. “I think I’m going to sit down next to you because from this angle I feel like you can see up my nose,” she said. “That’s fair.”
“I’m a lab assistant of Dr. Schiller’s and I’d like to ask you a few routine questions before tonight’s show,” she said, brandishing a clipboard. Her questions descended from routinely sexy to invasive: Are you looking to hook up tonight? Have you ever tanned on purpose? Have you ever fantasized about a boss or superior? Have you ever had public sex? Okay, how public?
We answered in kind and when the questioning ended, the awkward lab assistant said, “According to my very scientific calculations, you get a red mask and you get a green mask. Also, here’s these.” She shoved the red mask over to me along with a condom. If this was a show intended to make matches for the evening, the questions were a litmus test. The condom, a safety precaution.
I’d heard about Dr. Alex Schiller before. She has written some interesting articles for Nerve in the past, and was well known her gloves-off, not-so-politically-correct brand of sex advice. She’s performing to gear up for the big release of her new advice book, of the same name. As she first approached the stage backed by a four man band, she began by singing Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” I was a bit confused, as I hadn’t been prepared for the musical aspect of the show, but like the whiskey swirling in my glass, like the prying questionnaire, like the string of unsavory and hilarious phrases Dr. Alex was about to spout, the music just served as a social lubricant. Inhibitions weren’t welcomed here. In fact, in the world of Dr. Alex, inhibitions were pantsed.
“Raise your hand if you like sex,” Dr. Alex commanded. The half-tipsy room raised their hands. “Raise your hand if you are brave and you are beautiful.” We raised our hands. “Good, if you didn’t raise your hand to one of those three, then get the fuck out of here.”
Well, then. I suddenly felt overwhelming relieved that I had selected to sit in the voyeurs section, knowing well that it was a get-out-of-jail-free pass to abstain from any of the evening’s activities. The participants had been warned that they might be touched during the evening’s events. The show began with Dr. Alex explaining her humble beginnings as a drab fruity cocktail-slurping nobody who never got laid and how she transformed into a sex goddess, reveling in the bacchanalia of affairs abroad and the be-suited run-off from her live shows, no doubt.
Dr. Alex introduced us to a series of acronyms throughout the show that best relayed her mantras. These were simple, coded tips to ensure that we too would become sex deities by the end of the evening, and most probably we’d be going home with someone in the crowd. NSA=NSA, she claimed. Never Sleep Alone = no strings attached. If we were to do this, we’d have to agree that love was the enemy and in order to get laid as frequently as you desired, we had to be free of the trappings and trimmings of monogamous expectations. Sex expectations breed disappointment. It was bachelorette Buddhism.
Dr. Alex then declared, “From now on, whatever I say, you have to do.” It seemed like a bit — a pseudo sex therapist acting part dominatrix. “This is going to be weird,” I assumed, out loud.
Minutes later, Dr. Alex had random audience participants on stage, stumbling through awkward date chit chat, she had random men hitting on random women in the crowd. (“I like your sharp teeth,” one man pathetically cooed on a mock date with the lady in the cavewoman outfit with the odd necklace.) Disturbingly fast into the performance, she had strange audience members sitting on the laps of and swapping spit with other strangers. The kisses seemed eager, with a level of performativity added because it was amongst a large crowd, aided by alcohol. But these were real strangers with strangers, and somehow, Dr. Alex had conjured the shyness right out them.
It reminded me a bit of stories out of the Stanford prison experiment. Regular, ordinary people being put in an outrageous scenario, given a leader, and swiftly and eerily falling into their designated roles of a prison. Within the first twenty minutes — somehow, through suspension of disbelief and with the audience buying into the eccentric reality of the performance, Dr. Alex had become all of our warden.
Next, we were to put on our masks and mingle around the room, and approach anyone who we thought was attractive. Wearing my glasses, I slipped on the red mask and fashioned them over it so I could still see, knowing that it looked as ridiculous as it sounds right now. But I had to see. A nondescript man came up to me.
“Hey. So, how are you?”
“Are you open?”
“I guess,” I said. “What’s open?” I asked myself, looking at my legs, my fly.
“You’re cute,” he said.
“I’m wearing glasses over my mask,” I replied.
“So?” he asked. I didn’t respond.
“How sexual of a person are you?”
Just in time, Dr. Alex came over the microphone again and ordered us to sit down. During some of that mingling, some couples had begun to make out. A woman had tapped me on the shoulder and smiled. The wild parts were only beginning.
With a wave of her persuasive finger, Dr. Alex coaxed about ten audience members to the stage, handing them each a shot of vodka which they gleefully downed. “We’re going to embark upon an ancient tantric practice,” the doctor said. “What’s gonna happen?” I asked aloud. A woman near me, who had apparently attended Never Sleep Alone before, replied simply, “Magic.”
An assistant stepped on stage and unfurled what I believed was a map, but turned out to be America’s favorite sleepover game, Twister. “Left hand blue,” Dr. Alex commanded. “Right foot yellow.” Within two steps, it had become obvious that an actual workable game of Twister was moot, and in fact (as it usually is), this was just a ploy to cluster bodies near other bodies quite quickly. “Kiss the person directly to the left of you,” she called. True to form, the prisoners — er, audience members — obeyed. They kissed. Deep, sexy, kind of weird kisses. “Now switch to the person on your right.” They listened, the kisses getting sloppier. “Now let’s all reach into the center and kiss each other.” They listened. I couldn’t see what was going on, but I knew it involved saliva, tongue, and anonymity. For a brief moment, Dr. Alex ducked down into the center and seemed lost in the knot.
For the final act (and I am skipping over parts, if you want to go, you should and you should enjoy it), a set of strangers were asked on stage. The woman was wearing a skirt and stiletto combo that threatened exposing some of her more private parts were she to bend a bit to the left or right. They were instructed — for a reason explained but herein forgotten — to simulate oral sex on one another using fruit as stand-ins for their own junk. The man, quite hesitantly, bit and lapped at a watermelon quarter that was positioned in the woman’s lap while she writhed in mock pleasure. The audience voted him as “good,” not because we could discern his oral sex skills through the process, but more likely, that he had just aggressively tongued a watermelon in a stranger’s lap voluntarily. The woman had a banana, the easier, though more public, of fruits. She swooped down onto the banana placed in the man’s crotch and ran her tongue up along what would be the shaft of the penis. It felt wrong to watch. She then hunkered down on the banana, licking it, sucking off bits of the top, until finally, the entire banana was down in her throat. Eventually, it was consumed.
“That woman’s like a chimpanzee,” my friend whispered to me. I laughed too loud.
By the end of the evening, enough strangers had made out to verify one thing: whatever Dr. Alex Schiller was selling, it worked. We were all invited to a password-protected after party at a nearby bar, where many of the attendees would go and continue their antics on dry land in good liquor. I wasn’t in it for the anonymous sex, not tonight. I was happy to go home, curl up in the bed, and salvage as many hours of sleep before the work day began. In the restroom on the way out, I spied rows of women primping in the mirror, applying lipstick, adjusting skirts, ready to continue with whomever they’d been brushing against in the champagne-fueled, command-charged theater.
As I walked out, a woman in a tight black dress — who had more than a few drinks, I’m guessing — reached behind me and smacked my ass. “That was fun,” she said to me. I just grinned, knowing that she probably wouldn’t sleep alone.